When you’re obsessed with all things cycling, like me and many of my regular readers, you definitely enjoy a book about cycling. My latest cycling read is Wild Ride by Daniel Oakman that was sent to me by his publisher for review and I’m certainly glad they thought of Women Who Cycle. Oakman’s book chronicles a bunch of intrepid cyclists who undertook amazing transcontinental rides across the vast Australian continent.
The official description says “This book tells the story of cyclists who were overcome by the need to venture into the wild on two wheels; the courageous men and women who undertook some of the most epic bicycle journeys of all time.”
Wild Ride covers 130 years of Australian transcontinental cycling including three women only tales which I’ve focused on for obvious reasons. I admit that I only read the chapters about the female riders but I will go back and read the others at my leisure because I really enjoyed what I’ve read so far.
First Lady – Sarah Maddock
The first woman he devotes a chapter to is Sarah Maddock who I’ve written about previously. Sarah was an amazing trailblazer in women’s cycling and rode with her husband from Sydney to Melbourne in 1894 and then Sydney to Brisbane. I enjoyed the more detailed account than I’d previously read about Sarah. She was a media sensation in her day and not unlike modern times the reporters of the day focused on trivia like her clothing.
I loved the description of part of the ride from Sydney to Brisbane. “Lashed by a storm, they pushed on through swollen creeks and rivers, shouldering their bicycles where necessary. At Burleigh Heads they rode along the beach and through the waves to beat the incoming tide.” And we complain today about getting a little wet from time to time.
In between her two long-distance riding feats she founded her own cycling club called the Sydney Ladies’ Bicycle Club, and wrote a regular column in a cycling publication of the time.
My favourite quote about Sarah came from a newspaper report at the time – “The husband is evidently only an appendage in the bicycle world. The day is very near when a man will be spoken of as Mrs so and so’s husband.” Sadly, more than 120 years later this still is a rare thing!!
The Girl Cyclists – Wendy Duncan and Shirley Law
Oatman’s next feminine story is about two pioneering bike riders named Wendy Duncan and Shirley Law. And while I’d previously known about Sarah Maddock I’d never heard of these two adventurers.
They undertook a three-year cycling trip around Australia from 1946 to 1949. It took them a year to get to Queensland and on to Darwin, then they pedalled south to Adelaide and crossed the Nullarbor to the west. They were the first female cyclists to cross the Nullarbor, but by then they had already attracted the attention of the press and were dubbed the ”girl cyclists” as they drew crowds in every city they passed through.
The two women working along the way to earn enough money to keep going and they also received some sponsorship. One of the things I enjoyed reading was that they didn’t call themselves cyclists as we do today. They saw their bikes as a mode of transport and when it suited them they used other methods of transport like trains and trucks.
“Wendy made it plain that they did not consider themselves cyclists. Rather, they were travellers unencumbered by the schedules imposed by others or their choice of transport. They would stay in places for as long as they fancied, and if they needed a break from riding they would take one. ‘We are not averse to accepting a ride in a cattle truck or a motor lorry,’ Wendy told a reporter.”
They were also trailblazers in the world of celebrity and endorsements. As they both rode Malvern Star bikes they approached the company to sponsor them but were met with a flat no because they did not represent the typical racing cyclist of the day. So throughout their travels, they called upon the local Malvern Star representatives and hounded them until they agreed to provide some support. They also developed a formula for gaining local publicity wherever they went, making their first point of call in every town the local newspaper office and radio station.
The Grit Between Her Teeth – Kate Leeming
The third and final story about a lone female cyclist is the more modern tale of the extraordinary Kate Leeming who undertook a 25,000 km mountain bike epic that she completed in 2005. Kate’s focus was on sharing her passion for sustainability. She visited schools and spoke to people to draw attention to an emerging global environmental crisis and the need for sustainable development.
Kate rode across terrain that most people wouldn’t be willing to tackle in an air-conditioned four-wheel drive, and most of the time it was all alone.
“At the pub, Kate and some of the locals discussed her plan to ride the Canning Stock Route. She encountered a range of responses, from raised eyebrows to flat-out declarations of her impending doom. As the magnitude of the task dawned on her, it also became clear that almost everything in her approach was wrong.”
Of course, there are also some wonderful stories about the feats of male cyclists including Sir Hubert Opperman, known as Oppy.
I’d certainly recommend the book to cyclists or non-cyclists who enjoy an adventurous tale. You can buy it from booksellers and the publisher Melbourne Books.