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People power

An edited version of this article appeared in Treadlie Magazine #13, January 2014

WE’VE NOTICED A DIVERSE RANGE OF GRASSROOTS BIKE EVENTS SPRINGING UP AROUND AUSTRALIA OVER THE PAST FEW YEARS, AND THEY’RE GOING OFF. VANESSA MURRAY PICKS THE BRAINS OF THREE ORGANISERS TO SEE HOW THEY MAKE IT TICK.

“Being an organiser definitely detracts from being able to get fully involved. It takes a lot of enthusiasm, time and commitment. But it’s totally worth it,“ says Andrew Blake, one of five committee members of Melbourne’s Dirty Deeds Cyclocross.

A no holds barred bike race that pits contestants as much against nature as against each other, Dirty Deeds seeds road riders take to the tundra (and the sand, pavement, trails, hills and mud) in short, intense, circuits.

Cyclocross started in Europe, shipped out to the USA in the 1970s, and now it’s gaining traction in Australia. This is its fourth year ripping up the turf in Melbourne – similar events are going great guns in Adelaide, Sydney, Tasmania, Newcastle and Brisbane.

In 2012 and 2013 Melbourne’s Dirty Deeds Cyclocross hosted two main races, along with a prologue to kick-start the season, and a Halloween race to finish it off. There’s a fast-growing women’s grade, and kids’ races – all up, you can expect about 200 racers at an event, and five times the amount of spectators.

Dirty Deeds operates as a subcommittee of the Brunswick Cycling Club. All contestants must have Cycling Australia membership, which covers off the insurance they need to be able race, and enables the crew to cap the entry fee at just $10.

Finding places to race has been Dirty Deeds’ number one challenge, reckons Andrew. Apparently, a lot of bureaucrats aren’t too keen on the idea of cyclists racing in parks – and then there’s the parks themselves. They’re worried about the impact of the races on the grounds, but a bit of give and take goes a long way; Dirty Deeds supports one of its key hosts, the Darebin Parklands Association, by helping out on community planting days.

“Cyclocross is one of the most approachable forms of bike racing. You can ride any sort of road bike – we’ve had unicycle and tandem bikes taking part. If you get bitten by the bug, you’ll probably end up buying a cross bike – but it really doesn’t matter if you’re upfront going for the national prize, or just racing your mates. Either way, it’s loads of fun.”

Gavin Bannerman and Richard Butler are the brains (and brawn) behind Pushies Galore, an old school bike meet held at Brisbane’s fifties-style Holland Park Bowls Club that has been held every July since 2011, and has become a bit of a thing.

“We were inspired by the show-n-shine element of vintage car shows,” says Gavin of the family-friendly event that includes a show-and-shine, for people that like to display their rare or vintage bicycles; short races around the Bowls Club; a flea market and swap meet; and a kids parade and workshop, where kids can dress up their bikes.

“Of course, first time around, we didn’t know how it would go. We’ve been surprised at how well it’s been taken up, and this year we had a massive crowd; hundreds and hundreds of people came throughout the day,” says Gavin.

“This year was a big year for people telling the whole story around their bike,” he continues. “Riders from the Queensland Penny Farthing and Historical Cycle Club came dressed in clobber, taps, stockings.”

“Then we had a guy who had an entire shearer’s bike.” A shearer’s bike? Call it the commuter’s bike of the early twentieth century: shearers travelled vast distances for work. The bicycle enabled weekend visits to other sheds and nearby communities, and was cheaper to feed than a horse.

“We think it works because it’s accessible to all kinds of cyclists, and cyclists from different bike cultures get to mingle and interact. Show-and-shine categories include BMX, vintage, road, ladies, antique, cruiser, track and cargo – it’s a kind of cross pollination of bike culture.”

The pair, their partners and friends do a lot of work that goes on behind the scenes, but are keen to the self-funded, not-for-profit event lean. It’s likely their public servant alter egos pressing for this organisational independence – in their downtime, Gavin and Richard are adamant they’d prefer not to have to deal with committees, project plans and paperwork.

Running – or rather, riding – an event that goes smack bang through the heart of Sydney comes with complications, says Susan Goodwin of the Sydney Tweed Ride, a leisurely jaunt through the city streets for riders clad primarily in – you guessed it – tweed.

The ride starts at the Sydney Town Hall and goes for between five and 10 kilometres. The group pause under the Sydney Harbour Bridge (say cheese!), then finish with a picnic. It’s proved popular – doubling in size between its first year, 2010, and 2011.

“It was lovely turning up on a cold, crisp winter morning, everyone dressed in their best tweed,” says organiser Susan Good of last July’s all ages ride.

“Apparently you can get some great tweed out in the Blue Mountains, where it’s a bit colder. We have a lot of women coming who’ve made their own outfits, and one guy wrapped his frame in tweed!”

The biggest challenge for Susan and her co-organiser, Julian Samosi, has been securing the exclusive use of public spaces on the intended day.

“Last year we had to shift the event because of rain, then we had to shift it again, because the police got in touch to tell us there was already a running event on that day. We’ve learned we need to be more organised; we’re planning next year’s event already.”

The police have been fantastic, says Susan, happily blocking off the road and shepherding the riders through busy intersections. The driving public responds positively too.

“Sydney’s not known for being the nicest place to be on a bike, but drivers are intrigued and seem to really enjoy seeing us out and about. We fill a whole lane; normally that would make people really irate! We encourage everyone to slow down, follow the road rules and wave to everyone.”