In 2014 I was after a change. I’d raced the past two years for Specialized Securitor but had come to the conclusion that cycling racing wasn’t for me but I still wanted more women racing and riding bikes, so I still wanted to be involved. I continued racing at a local level for my club, Port Adelaide CC but I still knew I needed to do more. I realised that we needed more women riding, to get more women racing. More needed to happen from the bottom up.
I begun helping out on Bike Society women’s rides which were flat rides to encourage more women to ride together and to help provide advice and support. Simultaneously I was developing what some have called ‘a fetish’ for gravel roads, particularly steep ones.
I knew I still hadn’t found my niche though. I looked around me, there were numerous beginners women’s bunch rides but I found was there was no happy medium between beginners and the women racing. There was this enormous gap. What was Jane Doe supposed to do if she wanted to join a bunch ride but was far too fast for a beginners ride but had no interest in racing nor the support to get there if she did? Say Jane was a woman in her forties with three kids who wanted to push her boundaries but had no idea how? Maybe Jane had no idea what she was missing in terms of the roads she was riding, repeating the same well-trodden roads that so many others ride?
So when Rapha Australia approached me to become an ambassador and begin women’s rides in Adelaide, I jumped at the opportunity! I never realised how this could be equally helpful to me as it was to the women I supported.
How To Create a Successful Bunch Ride
Work out a safe meeting place, route, time and the exact market you’re targeting.
For me, it was 6 15 am at the corner of South Tce and Hutt St in Adelaide, South Australia and my target was women with some previous bunch riding skills who were of intermediate ability. Our route was a 30 kilometre flat ride that took us from the city to the coast.
Market the ride.
For me this was through social media and searching through Facebook for various cycling groups and posting about my ride there.
Be passionate, be enthusiastic.
You attract what you give out. On the very first Friday morning, I was so nervous and wondered if anyone would come. I was so grateful to spot three women waiting on the corner, one of whose face was familiar from Bike Society rides but the other two were unknown to me. We ranged in age from early twenties to early fifties. These women are now close friends of mine and I lovingly call them the ‘founding riders’. These women are Lorraine, Louise and April.
If you say it’s going to be a weekly ride, make sure it truly is a weekly ride. Do not just say ‘sorry can’t make it this week’. If you want something to happen, you need to prioritise it. I also found it easier to be weekly as opposed to ‘every second week’ that way people know that every single Friday, the Rapha Women’s ride is on. They don’t need to try to work out if it’s on this week or next.
While this would usually be much higher on the list, it took me a while to determine exactly what I wanted from these rides and it quickly escalated much greater than I expected! I decided I wanted a bunch that had a wide variety of ages and backgrounds and to have on average a dozen riders every week. I also wanted to hold adventure rides outside of these flat rides to ensure I followed my other passion of getting more women riding roads lesser known, including the ‘much dreaded’ gravel roads.
Carefully plan all rides.
I decided to lead an adventure ride every couple of weekends, which was aimed at intermediate riders who wanted to advance their skills and test their comfort zones.
I carefully planned each detail of every ride so that each one was progressively more difficult in terms of vertical metres, overall distance and technicality of gravel. This means that riders that attend each ride have built their skills and confidence and you won’t just scare them off ever coming out again.
You also need to prepare for the numbers expected as you may need to separate into a couple of groups with designated ride leaders. Another important thing to plan for is any stops for toilets or re-fuelling.
Actually support the riders.
While I think all these points are important, this could possibly be the single most important step of them all. If you aren’t there to support and encourage and give tips in person, inspiring someone to really push themselves in ways they’re not really sure of is just another way of putting them off and ensuring they never return.
I have walked with someone up a hill, reassuring them that they have done very well so far (much more than this person had previously ever done!) and can come back in another month or so and give it another crack.
Riding slowly with people is a skill, can take patience, but it’s crucial and can lead to so many fulfilling moments when you see the massive grin on their face when they conquer something they were totally petrified of doing! It’s even better when you see them taking on bigger challenges after that!
Good things take time.
We quickly expanded from a team of four to a team of twelve within two months of beginning our rides. We averaged seventeen riders every week within six months of beginning the rides. Eight months in at our Christmas ride, we had forty women join in the fun! This required two bunches for safety.
Bunch safety is paramount.
I’m OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder) on my bunches being ‘tidy’. Every rider that has done a ride with me in Adelaide knows this is a point I am EXTREMELY passionate about. You ride two abreast, closely abreast, not haphazardly in the middle of the lane. You either point out or call out all obstacles. You pay attention to what is happening around you, not just to the topic of conversation.
From my end, this requires taking leadership with pre-ride briefings every time there is a new rider to the bunch with our bunch expectations and important safety points. Also being clear in marketing on social media that a certain level of bunch riding skill is required for this bunch so that everyone is clear.
As I have said on numerous occasions to our riders, I never want our bunch plastered on the front of a newspaper or on TV or social media displaying poor road sharing etiquette. We need to uphold our end if we expect other road users to do the same. Respect goes both ways.
Practice what you preach.
If you’re expecting everyone else to continue to push their boundaries on ridiculously steep sealed or non-sealed climbs or encourage them to go for more and more distance, then the least you can do is to occasionally demonstrate that you’re also pushing your comfort zone. At the end of 2014 I created a 337 km epic ride in Tasmania, my birth state, to raise funds and awareness for two charities close to my heart. These being the Amy Gillett Foundation and beyondblue. We raised over $5000 between them and completed the ride with an average of 28.6 km/h with almost 4000m vertical gained. I have also participated in other various events or weekend rides which have challenged me for various reasons.
Be a leader.
Someone needs to make decisions and communication is critical. Sometimes being the leader can be tough, you have to make certain calls or deliver feedback that may not be favorable to some. However if you have enough respect within your group, it will all work out well.
Let your imagination go wild.
One day my partner, Roey, and I were driving down southern Adelaide and I had this sudden, wonderful idea. I wanted to create a women’s retreat weekend. I messaged everyone in the group to see if they would be interested and there were immediate enthusiastic replies. So it began..we now have an annual retreat with spots highly sought after!
Moving from Adelaide to Victoria was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done because I was leaving in such an exciting time for women’s cycling in Adelaide. Many of the bike shops that were leading monthly or fortnightly women’s rides changed to weekly which I like to think was somewhat to do with the success we had. All of the women’s rides were growing and many of the riders attending these rides were not exclusively attending to one ride only, they went to numerous which is pretty cool ! It demonstrates a real community.
The biggest reason it was hard though, was because many of these women had become my closest friends. They shared in my excitement, I shared in theirs. We celebrated milestones like birthdays, career success, family news and we picked each other up through the harder times. We challenged one another to achieve greater things, often done together. We could sit and talk for hours at a cafe, we could sweat it out on the roads. We messaged in group chat probably every day. We met up for rides outside of the ones I led. We were each others inspiration and joy.
The Best Thing?
When you move states, you very quickly realise who your real friends are. They’re the ones who make an effort to see how you’re coping, to message you to make your day, who make every single effort to see you when you come home even prioritising you over other important things including sleep. There is at least a dozen of these women who I would then call a bloody terrific friend for all of the above reasons.
I have been here in Victoria for 15 months now and there are no signs of them slowing down. Mags and Jo are continuing the weekly and adventure rides and together we are planning the women’s 100 and future retreats. Three of the women are going to the Giro together for the 100th year which is absolutely sensational! Many ride together on week day mornings before work and/or ride together on the weekends. They compete in cyclocross, time trials, track, road, participate in Audax events or just ride BIG.
These women are my inspiration and my friends and they have truly given back to me every single moment that I have put in for them. I hope this can inspire other women to create bunch rides.
My Final Word
Just remember to be imaginative, have fun and fully commit. The possibilities are endless.