Great Victorian Bike Ride
The Great Victorian Bike Ride (GVBR), commonly known as The Great Vic, is a non-competitive fully supported eight or nine day annual bicycle touring event organised by Bicycle Network (BN). The GVBR takes different routes around the countryside of the state of Victoria, Australia each year. The total ride distance is usually in the range of 550 kilometres (340 mi), averaging about 70 kilometres (43 mi) a day excluding the rest day. The ride first ran in 1984, attracting 2,100 riders in what was initially supposed to be a one-off event, but due to its unexpected popularity and success it subsequently became an annual event. The Great Vic typically draws several thousand participants each year, with a record of 8,100 riders in 2004, which makes it one of the world's largest supported bicycle rides.
- 1 Event structure
- 2 Organisation
- 3 Ride history
- 4 Route history
- 5 References
- 6 External links
The Great Victorian Bike Ride is organised as a single annual event usually of nine days duration, taking place during late November and early December, at the start of the Australian summer. Total ride distance is usually between 500 and 600 kilometres (310 and 370 mi). The average daily ride, not including the rest day, is about 70 kilometres (43 mi), although this can range from less than 40 kilometres (25 mi) to more than 110 kilometres (68 mi).
The GVBR is supported and non-competitive, catering to riders of all ages and abilities, from young children to octogenarians, keen racers, fitness enthusiasts, once-a-year cyclists, riders with disabilities, and everyone in between. The oldest riders to participate were two 87-year-old men who did the ride in 2010. While most riders are Victorian, cyclists from around Australia and the world also come to take part.
The ride is also completed on all manner of bicycles. Most riders use regular road bikes, mountain bikes, hybrid bikes, and touring bikes of varying standard, quality, and age. Some less typical bikes are also used, including recumbent bikes and tricycles, tandem bikes, folding bicycles, children in bicycle trailers and on trailer bikes, and even occasional unicycles, scooter style footbikes, and custom made bicycles.
Approximately one-third of the riders each year participate as part of school groups from about fifty different schools. Students are predominantly from the middle years of secondary school, and are accompanied on the ride by supervising teachers and parents. A number of riders who have later turned professional have taken part in the Great Vic as students, including former top female rider Anna Millward, and 2011 Tour de France winner Cadel Evans.
The ride is structured as a nine-day event, typically starting on the last Saturday in November and finishing on the first Sunday in December, and including one rest day somewhere around the middle of the ride. Due to its length the Bicycle Network has for many years marketed the GVBR as "a week in another world".
Bicycle Network now also offers a number of shorter ride options which may vary from year to year in order to cater for more riders. For example, single day rides referred to as the Great Vic Community Ride may be offered, usually either the first or last day of the main ride, or a particularly scenic day. Organisers now also offer a three-day ride option, termed the Great Vic Getaway; this usually covers the last three days of the main ride. Official rider numbers from later years of the rides include these riders who have only taken part in the shorter ride options; this may total from several hundred up to a thousand extra riders.
The cost for the full nine day ride in 2013 was $995 for adults, $760 for children 13 to 17, $435 for children 6 to 12, and free for children five and below. There was a $100 discount for riders who entered before the end of July, lower prices for the shorter ride options, and a late fee for entries paid after the end of October. The cost included meals, luggage transport, provision of campsites, water, toilet and shower facilities, as well as medical and safety support services.
The Great Vic is recognised to be economically beneficial to towns along the route, particularly food outlets in towns used for overnight stops and community groups who run successful fundraisers. Some towns and businesses go to great lengths to cater to the thousands of riders passing through. The Herald Sun has stated that "for a small country town, hosting an overnight stay of the Great Victorian Bike Ride is akin to winning the Olympic Games", with some traders reaping "an extra week's, month's, even a year's income from a ride visit".
In 2010 it was estimated that each town hosting a night's stop took in more than AU$150,000 from the visitors, with additional income coming from the ride organisers. There were also longer-term benefits because riders regularly returned later to revisit the towns and areas, often bringing others with them. The total economic benefit to communities visited during the 2011 ride was estimated at about $2 million.
Ride planning begins about a year-and-a-half before the actual event, with Bicycle Network organisers designing a route and arranging options with towns and communities along the route length. The following year's route however remains a secret until it is announced the night before the rest day on each Great Vic. Advance ticket sales are then usually made available to participants on the current ride, following which tickets officially go on sale the next May, in the year of the ride. Finer details continue to be finalised throughout the following year leading up to the ride itself.
Bicycle Network staff and volunteers have developed the facilities and the logistics plans for catering for the needs of several thousand cyclists and volunteers on the move each day of the ride. This includes provision of three meals a day, toilets, showers, washing up facilities, and the transport of many tons of luggage and other equipment. Between the luggage trucks and trucks carrying the ride organisation equipment, portable toilets, showers, and other requirements, typically between fourteen and forty semi-trailer trucks accompany the ride each day. A number of buses are also used to transport volunteers and other workers around the route, with about 180 other vehicles in total supporting the ride.
Volunteers provide much of the labour for the ride, which helps keep costs down for Bicycle Network and therefore lowers entry fees for riders. Bicycle Network also seeks commercial sponsorship, including a naming rights sponsor for the ride which has been the RACV since 2010. Bicycle Network additionally produce and market souvenir merchandise particular to each year's ride, including short and long-sleeved cycling jerseys, polo shirts, caps, and bicycle water bottles designed for use with bottle cages.
Accommodation is camping style, with riders required to provide, set up, and pull down their own tent and sleeping gear each day. The designated campsites are usually on a sporting ground in the town being used for the overnight stop, generally the local football and cricket oval. For an additional cost there is also a 'sleep easy' option where tents are provided, set up and packed down for the riders, or a 'luxury support' option with accommodation provided in motels or bed and breakfast establishments.
Along with the food, water, and toilet facilities provided at the overnight campsites, portable shower facilities are also provided, as are dishwashing facilities which also double as clothes washing facilities before meal times. Bicycle Network also provides medical support, and for additional costs extra services such as massages and bicycle repairs, which are usually provided by an outside business.
The ride itself is fully catered. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner are provided from lunchtime on the first Saturday until breakfast on the final Sunday as part of the cost of the ride. Breakfast and dinner are served from the 'Café de Canvas', with several hundred seats and tables provided both in the open and under a large under-canvas eating and entertainment area. Riders however must supply their own cutlery, plates, and drinking vessels. Lunches are served at one of the rest stops en route. Riders can also take extra supplies at mealtimes, such as fruit, to carry with them as snacks on the ride. The ride organisers additionally run a licensed café as part of the Café de Canvas, and a separate licensed bar, the 'Spokes Bar', sells alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks. Portable water and toilet facilities are also provided at each designated rest area.
There are also a number of independent food vendors who travel with the ride, selling hot and cold beverages, ice-creams and snack foods at the overnight camping spots and at lunch and rest stops. Many community organisations such as Lions Clubs, sporting groups, and schools along the route use the ride as an opportunity for fundraising, selling snacks and drinks, running sausage sizzles, and selling hot breakfasts to riders.
Media and entertainment
A daily news-sheet, The Good Oil, is produced, and an FM radio station BYK-FM formerly broadcast. There are now regular website, blog, and Twitter updates, including dedicated hashtags and photographs. An independent media company also follows the ride, producing official event photography and a documentary video of the ride, both available for purchase. External media agencies, such as the ABC and newspapers also regularly follow the ride or send journalists to participate. Nightly entertainment is provided, including live music performances in the Café de Canvas, movie screenings, a talent show, trivia nights, a meet and greet, and roving performers. Many of the towns along the route also provide entertainment, including live music, street markets, and fireworks displays.
Riders are permitted to pack up to 20 kilograms (44 lb) of luggage to be carried on the luggage trucks, including their tents and camping equipment, and can also carry whatever equipment they wish on their bikes. Ride organisers provide approximately one semi-trailer truck to carry the luggage for each 500 riders, so the ride is typically accompanied by at least six to eight luggage trucks.
Safety and support
The event generally has a strong safety record, with just three on-road deaths recorded in its thirty-year history. The first was in the 1980s when a man died after crashing his bike (prior to mandatory helmet laws). The second in 2005 when a woman was blown into the path of an oncoming vehicle, being killed instantly. The third was in 2014 when a man died after clipping the wheel of another bike and falling into the path of an overtaking truck. Occasionally other entrants have died of heart attacks, usually in their sleep.
Bicycles are expected to be in a roadworthy condition, including having a functioning warning device such as a bell or horn, and front and rear reflectors. All participants are required to wear a bicycle helmet, as mandated by law in Victoria and Australia. These requirements may be enforced by police.
Hazard and direction signs, rest stops, and route marshals are organised for the ride each day, including marshals on motorbikes and in vehicles, and directing traffic at major intersections. A group of volunteer riders called WARBYs (We Are Right Behind You) ride throughout the field, providing emergency assistance for bicycle breakdowns and rider difficulties. A number of sag wagons accompany the ride to pick up riders and bikes who are unable to continue due to their bicycle being beyond roadside repair, injury, sickness, or general weariness.
Designated rest areas, including the lunch stop, are provided roughly every 20 to 35 kilometres (12 to 22 mi) of the ride, dependent on site availability. These are usually set up in a park or sporting ground of a town along the route, but sometimes other smaller off-road sites or even roadside verges have to suffice. At the rest areas Bicycle Network set up water and toilet provisions, and independent vendors are usually also present selling snacks and drinks. Medical support and emergency bicycle repair services are normally available as well.
Ride organisers also work closely with Victoria Police in regards to traffic management and hazard reduction operations. Ambulance Victoria are on call to assist with accidents and medical emergencies. A team of riders from the Victoria Police bicycle unit also participate in the ride each year. Emergency management plans are in place in case of bushfires or other natural disasters.
The timing of the ride is to try to take advantage of generally favourable weather at the start of summer in Victoria, with warm days, mild nights, relatively little rainfall and less wind than at other times of year. Despite expected mild conditions, severe weather can nonetheless be common, ranging from temperatures in excess of 40 °C (104 °F), heavy rainfall and thunderstorms, and cold windy conditions. For example, the 2012 ride saw seventeen riders hospitalised with fears of hypothermia due to the wet and cold on day four, while just a matter of days both before and after this many riders struggled with the heat when temperatures reached the high-30s.
Many of the facilities and services provided on the ride are contributed by around 400 volunteers each year. Volunteers include those with family and friends doing the ride but who do not want to ride themselves, former riders no longer able to participate, and many who simply enjoy the atmosphere of the ride. Some of the volunteers also participate in the ride itself. Volunteer positions include catering services, medical services, luggage handlers, route marshals, information and media services, sign production, sag wagon, Warby team, cleaning services, tent set-up, and campsite services. A total of thirty-five different volunteer teams operate on the ride. Often volunteers will be under the guidance of paid employees, or assisting paid independent contractors in providing a service. Without the level of support provided by volunteer labour the cost of ride would become prohibitively expensive for many riders.
The Great Victorian Bike Ride was first organised in 1984 as a one-off event to celebrate the Sesquicentennial (150th anniversary) of the European settlement of Victoria. It was the first event ever organised by the then Bicycle Institute of Victoria, which later became Bicycle Victoria (BV) and is now Bicycle Network. The Bicycle Institute used a $10,000 grant to organise the ride, planning a nine-day route which ran from Wodonga to the state capital Melbourne without a rest day, and which attracted 2,100 riders. Although conditions were quite primitive, the ride nonetheless proved popular and attracted strong demand for a follow-up event the following year.
The second event in 1985 followed a nearly identical route as the first one, leading to a small decrease in the number of riders taking part to 1,900, the fewest in the event's history. However, as organisation improved and different routes began to be offered the ride soon became a well regarded annual event. A rest day was introduced for the third ride, and popularity quickly grew, with rider numbers rising by more than 500 a year. By the GVBR's 4th year in 1987, when it first covered a section of the spectacular Great Ocean Road, numbers had almost doubled from the early days to over 3,600. In the 6th event in 1989, following a not dissimilar route to the first two Great Vics, rider numbers had swelled to close to 5,000. The 8th ride in 1991 attracted a then record of nearly 6,000 riders for a route that included the full length of the Great Ocean Road for the first time, a number that still stands as the second highest participation rate in the event's history.
After the boom of the 1991 ride the popularity of the Great Vic started to significantly and quickly decline. Just five years later in 1996 a return visit to again ride the full Great Ocean Road was only able to draw just over 3,000 riders. The next three years from 1997 to 1999 would see the three lowest participation rates since the origin of the ride, with the 15th event in 1998 drawing less than 2,000 riders for the only time other than the second Great Vic in 1985. Even another return to ride the full length of the Great Ocean Road for the millennial event in the year 2000 could attract just 2,600 pedallers.
With the future of the event in jeopardy, Bicycle Network began to make improvements to the structure of the ride, and this along with increased publicity saw numbers again starting to increase. The traditional Melbourne finish that had characterised the ride for almost twenty years was gradually abandoned, allowing for more variety in routes which could now both start and finish anywhere in the state.
From the 20th event in 2003 Bicycle Network began giving the rides catchy names for improved marketing, christening that year's event the "Summit to Sea". That year, for the first and only time in the ride's history the Great Vic journeyed into Victoria's alpine areas, with a mountaintop start on the state's highest sealed road at the 1,861 metres (6,106 ft) high Mount Hotham. The route then descended along the scenic Great Alpine Road for 175 kilometres (109 mi) to its end in Bairnsdale, before travelling through Gippsland and finishing in Mornington, the first time it had ever finished outside suburban Melbourne. These new features of the ride saw rider numbers immediately increase by 1,000 over the previously stagnating participation rates.
The 21st anniversary event in 2004 saw the Great Vic finally regain and surpass its former popularity. A free new bike was given to each ride registrant, and this well publicised offering, coupled with a return to the Great Ocean Road, led to a new record of 8,100 riders taking part.
Some other notable achievements and firsts of the ride since this time have included:
- In 2005 the GVBR tragically recorded its first death of a rider due to a collision with a motor vehicle and only its second ever on-road fatality. Regular participant, 53-year-old mother of five Deborah Gray, was killed instantly when a strong gust of wind blew her into the path of an oncoming four-wheel drive at 10.15am on 28 November, during day 3 of the ride on the Murray Valley Highway east of Gunbower.
- The 2007 ride finished 356 kilometres (221 mi) from Melbourne in the small Gippsland town of Buchan. This was the furthest ever finish from Melbourne, and the only time the GVBR's finish has been further away from Melbourne than its start.
- In 2008 for the first and only time the entire cycling route was a loop, starting and finishing in Ballarat.
- Another visit to the Great Ocean Road in 2009 was capped at 5,000 riders due to the logistical problems that had been experienced dealing with the record number of riders in 2004. Entries were filled within a few weeks of going on sale to the general public, the only time a Great Vic has officially sold out.
- As an indication of the community-minded consciousness of the ride, the 2010 event travelled through areas that had been devastated by drought and 2009's Black Saturday bushfires. This was an effort to bring tourism and business back to the impacted communities, with a finish in the town of Marysville which had been almost completely destroyed in the conflagration.
- The longest single day's ride in the history of the GVBR officially took place on day six of the 28th running in 2011, with a leg from Echuca to Boort of 111 kilometres (69 mi).
- Day four in 2012 was arguably the ride's toughest day ever. A challenging route from Rosedale to Traralgon through the Strzelecki Ranges, including a 26 kilometres (16 mi) long climb with 10 kilometres (6.2 mi) of gravel, was hit by unseasonably wet and cold weather. Seventeen riders were hospitalised with fears of hypothermia, and many hundreds more finished on sag wagons, suffering from cold, accidents, or unrideable bikes. Other riders took an easy shortcut along the highway between the towns, meaning only a fraction of the field completed the full ride.
- The 30th anniversary Great Vic in 2013 again ventured back to the Great Ocean Road, with a first time ever visit to South Australia, starting in Mount Gambier. Participants were capped at 5,000 for the full route as in 2009, with an extra 1,000 tickets available for riders taking up a shorter ride option, although ultimately this ride did not sell out.
- Although still billed as nine days, in 2014 the first day was rebranded as "arrival day" with no riding, therefore effectively reducing the ride to eight days including the rest day. The total ride distance was concomitantly reduced to just 500 kilometres (310 mi), the shortest recorded ride length. The 2015 ride was similarly reduced to seven days riding, as well as the rest day and arrival day, making it clear that although BN still publicise the GVBR as a nine-day ride, the ride has in fact been reduced by a day from 2014 onwards.
- In 2014 a tragic third on-road death was recorded, and only the second due to an incident with a motor vehicle. A 65-year-old man from Echuca, Trevor Pearce, died when his bike clipped the wheel of another rider and he fell into the path of an overtaking truck. The accident took place at about 11.00am on Wednesday 3 December during day 5 of the ride on the Mansfield-Whitfield Road at the locality of Barwite, about 6 kilometres (3.7 mi) from the finishing point for the day in Mansfield.
The success of the Great Vic ultimately led to Bicycle Network organising other cycling events. This has included interstate and international equivalents of the GVBR which have run annually since 1990. These rides, now known as the Great Escapade, have visited most states of Australia, including Tasmania, Western Australia, New South Wales, South Australia, and Queensland, as well as other countries including New Zealand, New Caledonia, and Thailand. Bicycle Network also organises other popular rides, including the very successful Around the Bay in a Day event, which started in 1993 and now regularly involves over 10,000 riders.
Other cycling organisations around Australia, such as Bicycle Queensland and Bicycle NSW, have also followed the lead of BN to establish their own equivalents of the Great Vic at various times. The most successful of these is Cycle Queensland run by Bicycle Queensland, which has run as an annual event since 2002. Cycle Queensland runs for about 500 kilometres (310 mi) over eight days in early September, typically attracting about 1,000 participants, with a record of 1,160 riders in 2008.
- RD: Signifies the town used for the rest day.
- #: Routes were not officially named until 2003.
- *: Distances are approximate for the full ride distance and as quoted in original BN advertising literature.
- ^: Total number of riders as quoted by BN; this includes riders who participated in shorter route options once these were introduced.
- +: Route maps as created by Bicycle Network on Google Maps or BN site, starting in 2008.
- &: From 2014 the first day was tagged "arrival day" with no riding, therefore effectively reducing the ride to eight days and first overnight 'stop' simply being the starting town.
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