Wednesday 1 October 2014

Tips for cycling Melbourne's Around the Bay bike ride

Summary: Bupa's Around the Bay ride is Australia's biggest cycling event and is held each October in Melbourne. This post provides advice for people who haven't done this ride before, inexperienced cyclists, riders not used to sharing main roads with cars, or cyclists who haven't ridden for such long distances (20km, 50km, 100km). I volunteered as ride-along support (a "WARBY") on the 50km ride in 2014 and have based the guidance below on what I observed.

Related Posts:
Essential cycling skills for urban riders

1. About the Bupa Around the Bay cycling event and choosing the best ride option
- It's run by Bicycle Victoria and is a typically on the 3rd Sunday in October. All rides start and finish at Alexandra Gardens in Melbourne (except the 100km Sorrento ride, which starts in Sorrento and the SCODY 135km which starts in Geelong). For the 20km ride there is no age limit; for the 50km and 100km rides participants must be at least 12yrs old. The early bird prices for the 20km, 50km and 100km rides are: $30, $70 and $125. The rides include:
- Marshalls on the course at most turns to guide riders
- An event support phone number to call if you need help
- First aid medics on motorbikes (e.g. for patching you up if you fall)
- Limited mechanical support at the start and some major pit stops
- Around 6-8 ride-along volunteers on the 50km ride who can provide help (e.g. punctures)
- A "SAG" wagon that can collect you and your bike if you can't complete the course
- Rest stops with water and sports drinks on the rides of 100km+
- A chocolate bar snack at the end of the 20km and 50km rides
- For the 100km ride a snack at the mid-point and lunch at the end
- Official event jersey or rider shirt
- Timed ride and finisher's medal
- Cycling expo stalls, food, drinks and other activities at Alexandra Gardens till 6pm

Bicycle Network: Bupa Around the Bay
> Ride options (20km, 50km, 100km, 135km, 210km, 250km)
> FAQs
> Training Zone
> Fundraising for The Smith Family
> Image Gallery
> Bupa Cycling Zone

- Make sure you research the route options and choose the one that best suits. E.g. Easiest to get to an open train station or get picked up by a friend if you can't complete the ride. Google route maps are available from the Ride Options link above. If you have a bike computer reset the trip distance at the start (and if necessary any pit stops) so that you know how far you have left to go at any time.

The 50km route from Alexandra Gardens to Altona and back (crossing Westgate bridge)

2. First understand the risks of sharing roads with fast-moving vehicles
- While VicRoads, Victoria Police and organisers (Bicycle Network, etc) could take steps to close more roads/lanes, use more cones, reduce speed limits and put up signs for motorists about safe passing (e.g. passing distance), they currently don't do enough. Hence, there are still risky stretches of the route where vehicles could be passing only around a metre away or trying to pass within the same lane. These types of mass participation events, with many inexperienced cyclists riding close together on bikes that may not be in great condition, can lead to sudden swerves or cyclists falling off or crashing. This is rarely serious at slow speeds (<25km/hr) with no vehicles around but is quite dangerous at high speeds or when vehicles are passing only 1-3m away.

- On the Great Victorian Bike Ride (a similar, multi-day event), two cyclists have been killed after accidentally coming into the path of a nearby vehicle travelling at speed. When thousands of cyclists of differing levels of skills and experience are riding, occasional spills and mishaps are to be expected. But the consequences at safe speeds should be minor. Cyclists being seriously injured or killed by vehicles in this way on such events is almost entirely preventable and given the prior deaths it is very disappointing this is still occurring. I would encourage all riders, who either choose not to ride in such circumstances because of such safety concerns or who do ride but with concern for their safety, to contact VicRoads, Victoria Police and Bicycle Network to advise them of these concerns.
> The Age: Cyclist killed in truck crash on Great Victorian Bike Ride
> SMH: Memorial for cyclist killed on bike ride
Fatality - Great Vic Bike Ride (Unsafe Event Management)

- However, rest assured that if you do die in similar circumstances, the responsible organisations will promptly give you a wave, express their regrets on social media and add your statistic to the annual road death toll (see screenshots below). I'd like it noted that if I ever die due to being hit by a vehicle I'd want my death used solely to genuinely improve safety. Instead of token waves (I find that idea utterly offensive), I'd simply ask that the responsible organisations read and implement the guidance provided by David Hembrow on safety starting with this: A view from the cycle path: Perfect driving will never happen (Campaign for Sustainable Safety, not Strict Liability - part 2)

Bicycle Network: Give a wave - a tribute to Trevor

VicRoads Facebook Page

Victoria Police Facebook Page

- By the way, if you're interested in what recreational cycling looks like in the Netherlands, see here: Bicycle Dutch - recreational cycling

3. When sharing roads with fast-moving cars without separation stick with others, keep left, ride predictably, check over your shoulder and use hand signals
- If you understand the risks of sharing roads with cars and still decide to participate then take measures to maximise your safety. I was surprised to find that there were several roads on the 50km route (e.g. just south of the Westgate bridge) that had to be shared with fast-moving cars and there were no cones or other measures to separate cyclists from cars. Hence, the main protection was simply riding in large numbers so that motorists could easily see cyclists ahead and give them plenty of space.

- However, cyclists who were split up and riding on their own or in small groups often had motorists try and pass in the same lane or quite close by. Some of the novice road riders weren't riding as straight or predictably as more experienced cyclists and this did seem risky. Actual accidents with vehicles are very rare during Around the Bay but I would recommend all participants be as safe as possible when sharing roads with cars. Safe riding includes keeping left, claiming the lane when necessary, riding predictably, checking over your shoulder, signalling and ensuring sufficient gaps between your bike and others (e.g. no overlapping wheels).
See: Training Zone: Rider behaviour and the ATB Follow The Rules flyer

4. Tacks are common; Use puncture resistant tyres and carry sufficient spare tubes, equipment to change them and a mini pump
- Almost every Around the Bay day some bike-haters scatter tacks on parts of the route. It is often done by someone in a car throwing them out their window. In prior years I've noted this has been common around Frankston. In 2014 I had to help several cyclists with tacks that were left on Bay St in Port Melbourne (the tail end of the 20km and 50km rides).

- Given the length of the ride and the frequency of deliberate tack attacks it is important to take special precautions against punctures. The best measure is to equip your bike with puncture-proof tyres. I've got Schwalbe Marathon Plus tyres which are puncture proof even from multiple tacks. I recommend getting Schwalbe Durano Plus tyres for tyres of 23-28mm width and Marathon Plus or Energizer Plus for tyres of widths above 28mm. See: Puncture-proof tyres are the key to reliable transport

- Please note that Bicycle Victoria does not officially supply tubes or puncture repair services on the Around the Bay rides. The official support for cyclists with punctures that they can't repair is for them to wait for the SAG wagon to pick them and their bikes up and take them to the nearest main stop. The SAG wagon can take up to an hour to come by. Volunteer ride-along support ("WARBYs") may carry a few of their own spare tubes and will typically be carrying puncture repair kits (patches). However, don't rely on this. There are few WARBYs (only 6 in 2014) for over 7,000 riders and I ran out of my three own tubes before the end and patches proved ineffective on tubes punctured by tacks.

- Note that tacks aren't the only cause of punctures and unless you have highly puncture-resistant tyres you need to be prepared. I would carry two spare tubes (per rider), a mini pump, puncture kit and equipment to change tyres (tyre levers, spanner if wheels aren't quick release).

5. What to do if you do get a puncture
- If punctured by a tack leave the tack in and ride on for around 500m (pump the tyres if necessary). Wait till out of the tack zone (typically 300-700 metres) before stopping to change tubes. It would be very frustrating to repair one puncture and then get another within 500m. If you don't have a spare tube and only have patches don't take the tack out! Pump up the tyre and see if the air is only leaking slowly. If so, your best bet is likely to ride with the tack in till you have access to a spare tube or the best circumstances to try to patch it. Just stop to pump the tyre whenever necessary.

- Some punctures (e.g. often from tacks) cannot be patched at all or reliably and the tube will definitely need to be replaced. Also patch repairs generally during a ride like Around the Bay can be quite time consuming to fix reliably. So I always recommend replacing the tube. Remember you can always keep the punctured tube and patch it under easier circumstances, such as at the pit stop, finish or at home. Make sure you know how to deal with a puncture properly such as checking the inside of the tyre for all puncturing objects (e.g. tiny pieces of glass embedded in the tyre). See the puncture guides here: The best how-to guides for common maintenance tasks

6. Check your bike is working well before the ride day and is properly set up for you. Go on a few training rides
- I found a few novice cyclists who'd borrowed bikes for the ride or just fetched it out of the garage and their bikes were very noisy when pedalling. The drivetrains generally needed servicing and the chain lubricating. Others had gears that were difficult to change, brakes that were too loose or not centred and wheels out of true (slight buckles). When asked all of them confirmed the bike was in that condition at the start but most hadn't checked properly before the ride; the bikes were typically borrowed from friends. See: Training Zone: For your bike - Preparing your bike

- Go on some training rides of at least 80% of the intended distance with the bike you plan to ride. Include sufficient climbing (compared to what you'll do on the day) and make sure you can change gears efficiently and are comfortable with the riding position (frame size; seat and handlebar position). Bicycle Network also offers some early morning training rides, generally for those doing 100km+. See: Bicycle Network Around the Bay - Training rides

7. Practice and prepare for challenging conditions (Westgate climb, high winds, hot/cold temperatures, rain) and ensure your gearing is adequate
- For inexperienced riders gearing and practice in different conditions make all the difference on the day. One girl struggling up the Westgate hadn't been advised she could change from the largest chain ring at the front to the middle or smallest and when I told her to try had no idea how to do so (it was a borrowed bike).

- Weather conditions can vary widely so ensure your bike, equipment and clothing is suitable for the conditions on the day. And, of course, Melbourne's weather can switch rapidly.

8. Ride with others to make it more enjoyable and to reduce drag in windy conditions or for longer distances
- Many riders I caught up to who were struggling with the high winds actually had friends or family riding the same distance but had split up. While it's occasionally better to set your own pace for short sections (e.g. climbs) it's generally best to stick together with at least one person (if not a group) for the whole ride. It just makes it more enjoyable and less of a lonely struggle and the difficult stretches pass quicker if chatting to others. If you want to do the ride but don't have friends riding that year join one of the Meetup cycling groups that typically do this ride: Melbourne Cycling Meetup; Go Cycling Meetup

- In windy conditions or for longer distances, riding with others can save you a lot of energy as the stronger riders can spend more time at the front and the weaker ones can ride in their slipstream. For events like Around the Bay it is perfectly acceptable and expected to ride with strangers. At higher speeds or when following closely it's polite to ask but for riders on the 20km and 50km rides it is rarely a problem.

9. Stretch properly before the ride and at pit stops. Wear clothing that protects you from saddle soreness
- If you've practiced for your distance you'll rarely have a problem with having enough energy to finish if you eat and drink enough, stick to a comfortable pace and rest when necessary. However, many people will be unused to spending 3-7 hours on a bike and may suffer from lower back pain and saddle soreness.

- Lower back pain can be prevented or minimised by stretching well before the start and regularly whenever you stop for a break. Rather than keep cycling when back pain starts, stop to stretch. Simply getting off the bike and walking around for a few minutes also helps. Saddle soreness can be reduced by wearing suitable clothing and ensuring the bike saddle is suitable.

10. Take enough food and eat and drink regularly
- On the 50km ride I only passed one drink station (with a few lollies) on the way to the halfway stop at Altona and none on the way back. There was no included food at the Altona stop either; the chocolate bar snack is only available at the finish for 20km and 50km riders. Hence, participants do need to take sufficient food and drink. Don't forget to consume it regularly either as if you don't drink/eat for more than 20km cycling you can easily get fatigued depending on your condition.
> Training Zone: Nutrition
Training Zone: For your bike - Preparing yourself for the event
> Bupa Cycling Zone: 20-50km guide

11. Make sure you have all the equipment, money, nutrition and essentials
- Take a saddle bag and other storage (e.g. backpack) with food, water bottle, 2 spare tubes, tyre levers, puncture kit, mobile phone, Myki travel card, money and any essential cycling equipment. I also took a multi-tool, bike lock, cable ties, spanner and bike lights.
See: Training Zone: 8 essentials for cycling

12. Getting there and home. Being prepared to abandon the ride midway
- Plan for the most flexible way to get from home to the start and finish. I always recommend riding and combining with public transport if necessary/feasible. It'll prevent you having a car stranded somewhere if plans change.

- Accidents and mechanical failures happen or the conditions may be terrible, so you may need to abandon the ride before the end. It is best to choose a route/distance with this in mind and figure out your bail-out options in advance, such as a friend with a car that can pick you up.

- On the 2014 50km ride, one man had his seatpost break and fortunately had a friend who could come pick him and his bike up after he was patched up. A SAG wagon hadn't appeared after 45 minutes and it can't take you home, only to an official route stop or possibly the nearest train station. Some other cyclists got tacks on Bay St just 2km from the end and I advised them to walk their bikes to the train station and train it home. Make sure you check out the public transport options in advance if depending on them. Certain train services may be replaced by buses on Sundays.

Further Info:
Bupa Blog: Bupa Around the Bay for first-timers

Bicycle Victoria Forums: Bupa Around the Bay 2014
> 50km and 100km rider's discussion

Around the Bay in a Day
> Great Victorian Bike Ride

> VicTraffic