Yesterday, 14 October 2015, 6am start – although I woke an hour earlier than needed, and was up and about having a cuppa and feeding the wild parrots when Sprocketman woke.
Still a bit chilly in Spring, I was wearing arm warmers and a warm protective jacket. I wore proper riding knicks with padding in the seat and a vintage Mapei shirt from their halcyon pre-drug test (hahahahah) days. In other words, I went the full lycra.
I did indeed ride Buttercup (my electric assist bike) named after I heard Sprocketman referring fondly to his race bike as “Bluebell”. Bit of family ribbing : )
I had one pannier with some essentials, wallet and so forth and of course all my toiletries and some clothes were already stashed at work from my old gym days. We’ve got great storage & shower facilities in our office and as a result four of the seven of us ride in.
Sprocketman rode with me along the Pacific Highway to act as my human shield and get me safely to the assembly point, and then he stayed with us for the fun of the ride.
The group I rode with are here http://www.sydney-easy-riders.com.au/ very very funny and lovely accepting people.
I helped myself to a free bacon & egg roll at the 6.45 Grand Depart from Gordon, because it was National Ride to Work Day the local council had a fry up, giveaways, coffee & gelato. Along the way so did Willoughby council and there was another at the foot of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and these guys stopped at each breakfast and refuelled heartily.
I’m guessing there were 25 or 30 riders mustered there, with several newbies like me tacked on.
With a lead rider, and a lanterne rouge * to make sure no-one gets dropped, the communication was fantastic, for directions, upcoming obstacles, traffic warnings (on your left BUUUUUUUUUUUS !!) . Every now and then at designated points we stopped briefly to tighten up the bunch.
So it was a lot of fun riding in, and very scenic as they choose routes with as few cars as possible. I noticed I was so keen not to be dropped that I missed a few stop signs – I need to not rely on herd mentality/safety.
Riding over the Sydney Harbour Bridge was of course a magnificent moment, and one of the group came the extra step with me to Martin Place, to make sure I arrived safely, and when I got to my desk he’d checked in on my Strava to see that I was at work. Thoughtful eh?
All day I was utterly chuffed at having made it all the way without incident, there was one fall and it wasn’t me.
Around 4pm I started to get jittery again about missing the departure of the afternoon group; so I may have got back into my cycling kit around 4pm, and sat at my desk working until it was time to leave, ahem.
Riding back – another story! Much bigger and tighter group, and loads more traffic, so we left Observatory Hill sharp at 5.15.
I had a designated rider to talk me through directions and what not, this guy was a bit more serious but I couldn’t fault the way he took the responsibility of keeping me a) alive and b) from being a menace to others on the road. He told me which riders to chase down, and they all made me muscle to the front each time we stopped at lights. They were all very kind, but a lot less joking went on because of the hills, which were pretty much all the way back.
At the point the groups separate, with “the Hobbits” going the rest of the way via the National Park, I stuck with a different guide for the North Shore Leg known as “the Back Door”. These guys were more relaxed, by then we were in the backstreets more scenic and loads more direction changes, but hardly any cars. Plus because the hills were bigger than the inward journey, and I was keeping up no problem, they seemed pleased with my progress, like a somewhat unpromising child winning a spelling bee. My bike got a bit of attention and I think more than a couple of riders were going home to tell their spouses about a way they could join in and keep up.
Buses are scary, they just don’t seem to see you and lane change anyway, and the loooong bendy buses are not fun. So these guys became chattier, one of them is often on a tandem with his wife, and they keep up with the group.
Sprocketman met me again at Gordon station and we rode back together along the Pacific Highway again – next time I know to stay with the ER group and go the backstreets home instead – or next time I might go with the Hobbit sub-group who turn off and take Lane Cove National Park, which would see me basically pop up in my own backyard.
But they all said they hoped to see me again, so I can’t have been too bad a newbie. They all kept saying everyone has to start somewhere, and told me encouraging stories of new riders who broke their arms on their first days with the group.
I’ll apply for membership and see if I get accepted, otherwise they have their route maps on the website, and I’d be sort of confident with those - just SO many twists & turns to remember.
I have maybe two muscle groups making their presence known today – but mildly so. And I feel really good, like I have conquered a fear or a longterm goal – which in fact I have.
I’d like to do it again, but the early starts are horrendous – but you gotta do it to avoid the cars sadly; North Sydney was a bit of a sensory overload in that way.
I haven’t done it because I’ve been SO scared of traffic, but this group really fixed that : )
Looking forward to the next time.
*The Lanterne Rouge – literally the Red Lamp - is the competitor in last place in a cycling race such as the Tour de France. In some races the Lanterne Rouge is an official rider, and if he overtakes you, you must drop out of the race. Booo ! The phrase refers to the red lantern hung on the rear carriage of a train, which ye olde-timey conductors would look for in order to make sure none of the couplings had become disconnected. You may think it a bit pretentious to call a non-racing rider this; similar to calling your morning commute group a ‘peloton’, but I like it as a title and Ima gonna keep using it.