Along with 4,000 other riders and one friend, I’ve just completed the Great Victorian Bike Ride (GVBR) – 680kms in 8 days riding through country Victoria (and South Australia, as it turns out) – as part of my 70th year birthday celebrations. It was a wonderful experience in so many ways, but the actual riding reminded me of skiing and the joys that brings. The GBVR is like summer skiing. Here’s why.
I imagined that the GVBR would be a pleasant, no-pressure ride, observing the beauty of the countryside at the end of spring. That’s what the promo pictures suggest. But, from the first day of riding, a very different experience unfolded, with many parallels to my skiing experiences.
1. Teams/Groups are Key to Enjoyment
While I rode with a friend, there were many teams/groups, often from schools, of 4-20 riders, who rode – just like professional cycle racing – in a single-file train, working together, whizzing by. Skiing is best enjoyed in groups too. On the slopes you hear them coming as they rapidly descend, missing you by centimetres.
And when there’s a break from riding (or skiing), groups gather to chat about what they’ve just experienced. And while the groups aren’t competing for time or skill, there is a real individual sense of needing to be able to stay with the group.
2. Different Types of Teams Exist
There are the speedster teams, who want to be first, to be at the front, to roar past everyone. And there are the daytripper teams (such as primary school groups), who are there for the team experience, but are not interested in speed. Just like skiing.
3. Equipment Matters
My borrowed touring bike had completed the GBVR…some years ago. To me, it was a great bike…till I started Day 1. The real cyclists had much lighter bikes, with racing handlebars (duh!) and very high seats, requiring your back to be almost parallel to the ground (good for reducing wind resistance. Going downhill, they rolled past me while I pedalled hard! They zoomed uphill, while I struggled in the lowest gear. And the teams talk a lot about equipment – who’s got what, what’s the best, what you need. Same in skiing. If you want to go really fast too, you need good skis.
4. Clothing Matters
My friend and I dressed in the most rudimentary cycling gear. All the teams of course had smart uniforms. Some had different uniforms for different days (you do sweat a lot!). Teams looked good. Those not in teams (like us) had a variety of Tour de France lookalike clothing, utilitarian cycling lycra and ordinary everyday jumpers, jeans and coats (it was cold for most of the trip!). It’s the same in skiing. There are the professionals, the professional lookalikes and a few people skiing in their jeans and coats.
5. Apres Ski/Camping
For skiing, the chat at the end of the day, the bonhomie, the friendliness towards anyone who is skiing, is an important part of the day. Skiing is social, not individual.
And so with the GBVR. While the daily camp is not nearly as salubrious as ski accommodation, the friendliness and willingness to help anyone with anything (like finding a free wifi point in the football grandstand, changing a tyre, or putting up a tent), the sharing of common hearty food for breakfast, lunch and dinner (food is definitely not the focus, but you do need a lot of carbs) made this an incredibly friendly, can do, helpful, innovative, efficient group to be a part of. Camps sprang from nowhere and were gone completely by 9am next morning, as if 4,000 people just disappeared.
6. Enjoying Being Active
Riders are an active group. As well as riding 85kms/day, some went swimming at lakes or beaches along the way. Many visited the tourist destinations we passed (Robe, Mt Gambier Blue Lake, Twelve Apostles, Great Ocean Road). some rode even more after they had completed the ride for the day (not me – I was exhausted). This was not a one-off. This was part of their normal, very physically active life.
Skiers are similar. They love being outdoors. Many have built their own lodges, they maintain them through working bees, they get things done.
The Special Charms of the GBVR
So the GBVR reminded me a lot of skiing – summer skiing. But it also had unique charms.
I experienced (briefly) the joys of drafting behind a (slow) team, being dragged along in the vacuum they created, making riding much easier. I enjoyed the group calls (‘car up’, ‘car back’, ‘passing right’, ‘slowing’). I admired the physiques of the riders in their figure-hugging lycra. (In riding, it’s bums and calves you see. In skiing, it’s hips and thighs.) I enjoyed the cyclists who, not knowing me at all, just came and talked to me before passing and moving on at their own pace. I marvelled at the age range of people who signed up to do this gruelling physical challenge – from 7-over 80 years old.
I was amazed at the logistical skills of Bicycle Network (the organisers): how do you set up a camp for 4,000 people to eat, sleep, toilet, shower, be entertained in, while providing bike and body maintenance services?
The pictures I had seen in the papers didn’t prepare me for the physical demands of the ride. But they did instil the spirit of the event – a ride through beautiful country, small country towns on local roads, being welcomed by these small communities.
I’d always wanted to do it. I must say, it has been one of the best things I’ve ever done in my life. Thanks Bicycle Network. Thanks Rob, for partnering me on the journey.