I’m a strong believer that my bicycle rides should start at my own front door, but I’m guilty of transporting my bicycle by car to interesting places like the Alps, or to the beginning of a Sportive or Audax event. The justification usually has to be pretty good though; for example riding an iconic event like the Bryan Chapman Memorial. So travelling to Brisbane, Australia, to ride a 100km Brevet seems a little extreme. In this case though, I am on a business trip to a conference in Brisbane and I decided to make the most of the time between landing and the conference start.
I left home at 7am on Thursday morning and flew with KLM to Amsterdam from Teesside airport. After waiting there for 5 hours, I caught the 12 hour leg to Hong Kong. I wasn’t very tired but did close my eyes for a couple of hours. Typhoon Rammasun was battering the airport as we tried to land, the turbulence was quite disturbing and the pilot chose to abort the landing the first time. It is a strange sensation seeing the ground approach and then feeling the engines fire full throttle as the energy lift us back away from the tarmac. I was praying for God’s blessing on all the crew as we came for the second approach and as I looked at the runway from my window… approaching the landing sideways… I was deeply impressed with the skills of everyone on the flight deck to get us down safely. This was something I said a prayer of thanks about.
I was delighted to be safely on the ground in Hong Kong, and then I saw the news about flight MH17, also from Amsterdam on a similar route to the KLM flight. Shot down as part of the conflict in Ukraine. God rest their souls and, Father, be with their families and friends in grief; people just like me, heading on a business trip, some even going to Australia for a conference… just like me.
I was only in Hong Kong for a couple of hours before we battled the typhoon winds to take on the next 8 hour stretch to Brisbane, arriving on Friday night at 11:30pm. Immigration / bags / customs / taxi… arriving at the hotel at 12:15am Saturday morning.
I had been in touch with Bike Obsession in Brisbane, so in the hotel waiting for me was a beautiful Bianchi Impulso road bike, set up to the measurements from my bike at home, with SPD-SL pedals and a seat pack with tyre levers and inner tube. I headed off to bed and set the alarm for 5am. (Note that this is not a bus-shelter… so not a proper Audax Hotel)
Audax Australia had helped me find the event nearest to Brisbane, and I had signed up for Rosie’s “Inland Indulgence”, a 100km Brevet. Rosie has run a few audaxes now and this was a ride she’d designed to test legs and yet be accessible to rider dipping their toes into the world of self-sufficient endurance cycling. I had been in regular email contact with Rosie in the week running up to the trip, so she had arranged for a local lad, Nick, to meet me at the hotel lobby at 5:30am in order to guide me the 15km to the start at her house in Kenmore. I woke just before the alarm, which didn’t go off because I’d set it wrong.
With two front lights and two rear lights and with a reflective gilet, I met the minimum requirements for lighting in the Australian Audax rules; this was something I’d fretted about needlessly as the ride was in daylight of course. I am very grateful to Nick for leading me to Rosie’s house, I’m not sure that with the travel and sleep loss I could have negotiated the road network in the predawn light. I have never been to Australia before, so this was testing my comfort zone a little.
In Australia there has been a new law about passing cyclists with at least 1m space, and the roads have nice wide cycle paths along most of the sides. In the Brisbane area there seems to be a very good cycle network alongside major arteries and kept in excellent condition. Even though it was still dark, there were hundreds of cyclists out meeting up ready for their Saturday ride. Although it was chilly it certainly wasn’t cold. Back in the UK we know the phrase, ‘Winter Miles = Summer Smiles’, but in Brisbane cyclists really don’t get the harsh and bitter winter we do, they don’t get the freezing horizontal rain which soaks through the seams of any gortex layer to form an icy coating to toes, fingers, arms, chest and head. ‘Winter miles = winter smiles’ in Brisbane. Mind you, I would not want to ride in 40oC+ during the summer months. Presumably in Australia ‘Summer Miles = Winter Smiles’.
We gathered, about 15 riders, at Rosie’s collecting our Brevet cards and route sheet. It is nice that even in a ‘foreign’ environment something simple and familiar helps me to relax and feel at home. I didn’t have a route sheet holder and without long sleeves I didn’t want to strap the instructions to my arm with elastic bands. I had loaded Rosie’s ridewithgps route into my little garmin 200 device and was going to rely on that, also rely on staying with the group!
We’re off! First turn and guess what happens… yes, the group turns left instead of right. One shout from an astute rider at the back has us turning in the road and on the correct path. We rode together for the first 100m or maybe 200m, and then the 15% climb split the group, a quick descent and then the next climb spilt the group again, another descent and climb… choppy little steep descents and climbs on great road surfaces – fun but leg breaking – were spreading us out. I found that the early warm up with Nick had put my muscles in their ‘happy place’, so Nick and I, with Vaughan and Hugh, formed a little advance party as we headed for the first proper climbs.
We were following a very nice back road which was destined to end in a dead-end, climbing to the secret control at the top where we needed to answer Rosie’s simple question. The climbing was nothing more than 10%, but with some nice dips to keep the pace up. As we climbed the scenery was fascinating me, trees and bird-calls which were thoroughly unfamiliar. I felt like I was back in the USA, perhaps Florida, but the bird song was so utterly strange that it maintained my sense of dislocation. Vaughan slid slightly off the back of our group as we carried on climbing to the control, but we had no more than 30 seconds to wait at the top for him. With the question answered Vaughan, Nick, Hugh and I blasted our way back downhill, but of course it wasn’t all downhill and we lost Vaughan with the continuous choppy hills. The climbs can’t have been more than 75m in height, but with the constant drop and climb, over and over again, it was becoming much harder for me to stay with Nick and Hugh. I think Nick was very much in control though because he eased the pace back to a steady one.
The landscape in the countryside just beyond Brisbane’s suburbs is quite dry. It wasn’t barren by any means, there were trees galore and shrubs and wildlife everywhere; I just had a sense that this flora and fauna was as tough as nails, forcing a living out of the earth. I can’t imagine how hard this riding would be in 40oC+; as the sun started to climb in the sky my arms began to glisten with the effort to keep me cool.
We reached the ferry crossing of the Brisbane River, a cable winched affair. The ferry is free to cyclists, and things like this make for an entertaining interlude in a ride. We’d lost Vaughan but only long enough for us to board the ferry and take the obligatory selfies. As the ferry pulled away Vaughan came round the corner – we shouted for him to bunny-hop the gap!
We decided to wait on the far bank for Vaughan to join us, and in the meantime the troupe came back together so we rolled up hill away from the river en-mass. I tucked in at the back for a free ride.
Unfortunately, at the first significant junction there was a cyclist collision towards the front of the group. It is the sort of thing that happens easily enough when one person checks over their shoulder while the rider in front slows down: wheels touch. No one was hurt, but it was all Nick and I needed to choose to roll away off the front of the group again, with Hugh jumping across to us; we didn’t plan to be far away or riding fast because in the heart of Ipswich, on Brisbane St, we stopped for the control at a café.
Coffee and cake were on the menu for me, a lovely piece of lemon meringue and a hot black coffee. We had a leisurely break, long enough for me to start shivering! It was great to be with everyone chatting and getting to know each other. There are some tough Audaxers in Australia, riding the PAP (Perth-Albany-Perth) and one gentleman (I think David) has ridden PBP (Paris-Brest-Paris) twice. Next year I hope to be at PBP and maybe some of my new friends will have made the journey from the southern hemisphere to be there too. I enjoyed the description of a four instruction route sheet for a 200km event; “Ride 50km, turn left: (x4).”
We set off again and navigated our way through Ipswich, which is a lot hillier than the original Ipswich town in the UK. We approached a signpost for the Centenary Highway (which joins Ipswich to Springfield) and I pointed to the others that cyclists seemed to be allowed on the motorway. Nick explained this was because there was a promise to have a cycle path, but it had never materialised. So the government had basically allowed cyclists to use the hard shoulder, which we duly did as our route was along this stretch. This was great fun because the motorway is mainly for commuters, so on this Saturday mid-morning the road was quiet. Motorways have much longer gentle climbs, so with the tailwind and Nick pacing us, we flew along.
We returned back to Brisbane on a mixture of cycle paths and town roads, until the inevitable happened and even Australia’s excellent bicycle paths gave Nick a puncture – not long to fix though and we’d be rejoined by the second group on the road. More short tough climbs and a great cycle path alongside a M7 and M5 motorways brought us back over the Brisbane River. We were nearly home!
Everyone rolled back into Rosie’s within half an hour of each other. A leg testing, choppy, 102km covered in 6 hours with a nice long café break. Events like this bring people together nicely and we stood on Rosie’s driveway for another half an hour chatting about everything audax related.
Thank you to Rosie for an excellent event; I understand this was the first time it has run and I would heartily recommend it to others, although perhaps without travelling half way round the world specifically… but definitely if you were going to Brisbane and wanted some lovely company and a dip into the culture beyond the tourist traps.
With the 15km each way making it 130km in total, I was back at the hotel on Brisbane’s South Bank by early afternoon. I am also very grateful to Nick for looking after this foreigner in Australia.
I am pleased to recommend Bike Obsession in Brisbane. I have not been to the shop but have only dealt with them via email. Sharon was extremely helpful, the Bianchi was in great condition and a pleasure to ride, already set up to my measurements and needing only a minor tweak with a 5mm key to be perfect. Sharon delivered it to my hotel while I was still travelling so it was ready for my early Saturday start, and will be picking it up on Monday. I also got to go for an early ride on Sunday… more to follow… and I have been invited to join the shop ride at 6-7:30am on Monday morning: not sure about that though!