Join the club
There’s plenty of opportunities to share your passion for riding with like-minded people, finds Nicola Dunnicliff-Wells.
Bike riding can be a solitary activity, but it is also eminently suited to sharing with others – whether it’s a small group of friends, a fast-paced bunch ride or a mass participation event. The fortunate truth is that riding regularly with others is fun! It’s also motivating, and it’s a great way to improve your riding.
Are you looking for company? Don’t know anyone else who rides? Maybe you’re fairly confident but want to test or extend yourself. Perhaps you’re not sure if you’re ready to join a group, or worried about embarrassing yourself – or the groups you know of aren’t quite your style.
The good news is that there’s an abundance of riding groups around the country, and most welcome and support newcomers. Whether you’re after a social outing, a weekly fitness ride, a dirt encounter, something to test your mettle, or an opportunity to pit yourself against others, chances are you’ll find one that suits your needs – and a whole lot more besides.
The following list is by no means exhaustive, but more of an overview of the types of bike riding groups and clubs around the country.
Fun with bugs
Bicycle User Groups (BUGs) are local (usually municipality-based) bike riding groups. Whereas some BUGs are purely for social riding, others are more concerned with campaigning for better local facilities. A few BUGs do both, while some also give valuable support to their members by providing information or skills workshops.
Workplace BUGs might campaign for better facilities at work, provide support and encouragement for fellow (or potential) bike commuters, or organise social rides or corporate teams for events.
BUGs can be a friendly source of great information and local knowledge, and a good starting point for regular social rides. The level of riding varies, from family-oriented to fitness rides.
A good way to find a BUG is through your local council. Listings and links for BUGs also appear on the following websites:
- Bicycle Institute of South Australia www.bisa.asn.au
- Bicycle Network Victoria www.bicyclenetwork.com.au – the ‘Find a’ tab for BUG or Club pages (national listing)
- Bicycle NSW www.bicyclensw.org.au – lists BUGs affiliated with BNSW only
- Bicycle Queensland www.bq.org.au – Queensland BUGs are listed in the Act menu
- Bicycling Western Australia www.bwa.org.au – under Bikes and riding
- Bicycle Tasmania www. biketas.org.au – online email for help
Hundreds of social riding groups exist around the country, many associated with BUGs, clubs or bike shops; others simply hold regular outings with likeminded (or similarly paced) bike riders. Social riding groups vary in terms of pace, distance covered and riding style. Many welcome new riders, but it’s worth contacting the group beforehand to check it will suit you.
Bike shop rides
Many bike shops run (or simply publicise) rides. Bike shop staff can be a good source of information about what is happening locally. A few are particularly good at supporting novice riders and suggesting groups to try. Some bike shops also run riding skills sessions or bicycle maintenance classes. Information about bike shop rides and other local rides is often listed on individual store websites.
Dubbed the new golf, bunch riding can be as much about the social scene and the coffee afterwards as it is about the adrenaline and pedalling. While many groups welcome and support new riders, an understanding of bunch etiquette is essential, as are basic bunch riding skills. Googling brings up a wealth of literature on the topic, or try www.bicyclenetwork.com.au (search: bunch riding); www.bikenow.com.au (riding tips menu); www.southernvets.org.au (safety issues menu, scroll down for article by Stephen Hodge).
Along with listings through bike shops and cycling organisations, Australian-based website http://www.bunchridefinder.com.au lists bunch rides both inAustraliaand around the world. As with other listings, this website relies on ride organisers to add their rides to the site, so the list is not exhaustive. The easy-to-use site includes a description of each ride, plus distance, start and finish location, time, difficulty rating and average size of bunch.
Touring clubs run recreational rides, including overnight or multi-day trips. Most rides are on-road, but may include unsealed surfaces; some clubs also run mountain bike rides.
Touring clubs tend to be very social and welcoming of new members. Rides programs are generally designed to cater for both novices and those wanting more of a challenge.
Touring clubs around the country include:
- Adelaide Touring Cyclists www.adelaidetouringcyclists.org
- Brisbane Bicycle Touring Association www.bbta.org
- Cycle Touring Association of Western Australia ctawa.asn.au
- Geelong Touring Cyclists http://home.vicnet.net.au/~gtcycle
- Melbourne Bicycle Touring Club www.mbtc.org.au
Supported/mentored rides for women
Some clubs, shops and organisations actively encourage women bike riders by providing support or skills training. Some include:
- Canberra Off Road Cyclists (http://new.corc.asn.au): Australia’s largest MTB club
- COGS girls (www.bikenow.com.au) Melbourne: road riding skills sessions
- FIT (Females in Training, www.fitact.org.au), Canberra: training sessions, coaching, advice and get togethers
- Gear up Girl (www.gearupgirl.com.au): women-only road events in Sydney and Adelaide, plus mountain biking events and workshops in Sydney and Canberra.
Council on the Ageing (COTA)Victoria (www.cotavic.org.au , 03 9654 4443) has a regular program of social rides around Melbourne for people aged 50 and over.
Road and track racing
If you’d like to try your hand at racing, the best way is to join a racing club. InAustralia, road and track racing is under the auspices of either Cycling Australia (and its state member associations), or the Australian Veteran Cycling Council (and its state member associations).
Racing clubs are affiliated with their state association (Cycling QLD,Cycling WA, etc). To encourage wider participation in the sport the state member associations also offer recreational events (such as challenge rides). In joining a club, members buy a Cycling Australia licence.
Getting involved with a club is a great way to improve your skills, with access to coaching and training (whether it’s formalised or not) or even come-and-try opportunities; many clubs also hold social rides.
Clubs are listed on state member association websites (visit www.cycling.org.au and follow the links).
Australian Veteran Cycling Council
Veterans racing is open to women aged 30 and over, and to men aged 35 and over. The AVCC is a separate body from Cycling Australia, with a separate racing licence. A few riders hold both licences and compete in both AVCC and Cycling Australia club races.
The AVCC claims that, while competition can be keen, many members are attracted to the ranks because of the friendly and casual nature of competition. However, while new riders and racing novices are welcomed and supported, formal coaching is not provided.
Clubs and state member associations are listed at www.ausvetcycling.com.
Clubs are also the way to go for mountain biking. Clubs are affiliated with the national governing body, Mountain Bike Australia (MTBA), which in turn is an affiliated association with Cycling Australia.
While racing is a major focus, most clubs also run social rides and, whether you’re a rookie or an old hand, you’re likely to find others of a similar level through a club. Some bigger clubs provide coaching or skills training sessions; some also offer programs for junior and/or women’s development.
The main types of mountain bike races are cross country (XC) and downhill (DH), with XC being the most approachable. Enduro races, where participants race laps around a loop trail, are an ideal way to try racing. They’re often team events, so you can take a break while a teammate does a lap.
Encouraging novices to have a go, the NSW club Chocolate Foot (www.chocolatefoot.com.au) says on its website: “Enduro is a great introduction to racing. While a small percentage of the field are ‘serious’ racers, the majority of the riders are there purely for fun and a social day out in the forest. For most, it’s all about enjoying a lap and then kicking back with mates over a coffee or a bite to eat while they wait for their next lap.”
Club membership will also give you MTBA membership and a racing licence. Alternatively, you can join a club as a recreational member.
Clubs are listed at www.mtba.asn.au.
Cyclo sportif or Gran fondo rides
Cyclo sportif events are challenge rides. From the French term randonnee cyclosportive, these events may also be referred to by the Italian term gran fondo. Somewhere between a traditional road race and a non-competitive Audax randonnee, a cyclo sportif is a timed event and riders must complete the course within the set time limit. Prizes are often awarded to top place finishers.
Sportif-style rides are gaining in popularity. Bicycling Western Australia(www.bwa.org.au) and Cycling SA (www.sa.cycling.org.au) each run annual cyclo sportif series for teams of four to nine members. Both series are pitched at keen recreational bike riders and emphasis is placed on staying together and working as a team.
Dozens of other challenge rides (not necessarily cyclo sportifs) are held around the country, many of which are listed at www.bicyclenetwork.com.au (find a bicycle event).
Audax Australia offers non-competitive long-distance rides called randonees or brevets. All are time-limited; that is, riders must complete a set course within a given time frame. Audax is very much about personal achievement – pushing your own limits rather than testing yourself against others. There are no prizes for coming first; rather, Audax considers everyone who completes the route within the set time a winner.
It’s no elite club: indeed, the organisation welcomes all reasonably fit and determined bike riders willing to take up the challenge. In contrast with many participation rides, most Audax events are unsupported. Along with providing for one’s own food, drink and mechanical needs, riders must also adhere to strict rules regarding lighting and visibility.
AudaxAustraliaoffers several types of ride. Most are ‘calendar rides’ – events held on a specific date. These include:
- Brevets Randonneurs Mondiaux: on-road rides of 200km, 300km, 400km, 600km and 1,000km
- Brevet Australia: on-road rides, most of which are 50km, 100km and 150km
- Brevet dirt: rides of less than 200km
- Brevet Audax 22.5: on-road group rides with a 22.5km/h average riding speed
Non-calendar rides include:
- Permanents: a specified, controlled course that members may ride at any time
- Raids: point-to-point multi-day permanent events, suggested as a way to combine a personal challenge and a bike riding holiday.
The most well-known event,Victoria’s Alpine Classic, is Audax Australia’s flagship event. Held annually in the mountains around Bright, Victoria, it offers distance options from 62km to 250km. It is complemented, and immediately preceded, by the Semaine Fédérale, a week-long bike riding festival based in Bright, with organised rides catering for bike riders of all abilities.
How to track down a bike riding group
- Contact state-based bike riding organisations:
- Bicycle Network Victoria www.bicyclenetwork.com.au
- Bicycling WA www.bwa.org.au
- Bicycle Tasmania www.biketas.org.au
- Bicycle Queensland www.bq.org.au
- Bicycle Institute of South Australia www.bisa.asn.au
- Bicycle NSW www.bnsw.org.au
- Pedal Power (ACT) www.pedalpower.org.au
- Transport Group (NT) www.cyclewaynetwork.nt.gov.au
- Cycling Australia www.cycling.org.au (follow links to state member associations)
- Australian Veteran Racing Council www.ausvetcycling.com
- Mountain Bike Australia www.mtba.asn.au
- Talk to bike riding friends
- Check out your workplace: is there a BUG, social riding group or teams for events?
- Browse bicycle magazines for listings of events and bike riding groups
- Ask at local bike shops or check shop websites
- Contact your local council: websites usually list sporting clubs and organisations
- Surf the web – here are some sites to start with:
- www.bicycles.net.au – Australian Cycling Directory, forums, news and articles
- www.meetup.com – US-based networking site. Go to ‘find a group’ and type a term (e.g. ‘cycling’ into the topic box and your location)
- www.theberm.com.au –Canberra’s mountain biking community
- www.silentrevolution.com.au – Girls mountain bike forum (national website includes groups, rides and events)