The Bowral Classic is one of a series of mass-participation cycling events organised by Yaffa Media.
For one weekend of the year, a rural community in NSW gets exposed to the camaraderie that makes cycling wonderful. The event also showcases a region that is ideal for bike riding.
– Story and video by Rob Arnold
For cycling to properly prosper in a country like Australia it is necessary for people to feel safe when they are on the bike and allow them to sample the simple pleasures that come from the activity. As I’ve often said before: once a bike rider, always a bike rider… and if the introduction to riding happens while doing so with a few mates in a wonderful place, it can help the curious become enthusiasts.
Those who ride understand the many benefits that come from a good bike ride but too often the conditions on our roads mean that early experiences can be tainted by feeling intimidated in traffic, or even threatened. Still, there is hope that the buzz around cycling – and the considerable uptake by many Australians – that became prevalent during the pandemic won’t just peter out and seem like it was little more than a fad.
Events like the Bowral Classic (21-22 October 2023) provide an excellent example of the kind of camaraderie that is so much part of the activity we have come to know and love.
It isn’t easy to organise all that’s associated with hosting over 3,000 cyclists, plus their friends and families, but Bowral and surrounds put on a great show last weekend and it was a triumph for the popular tourist region in the NSW Southern Highlands.
They came, they raced, they rode their bikes… they looked around a beautiful part of Australia, they spent money on food and accomodation, and they had a great time doing something that is good for the soul.
‘They’ are bike riders. And, as the event in Bowral demonstrated, there are plenty of them.
Cycling in Australia has seen numerous golden opportunities get spoiled by bureaucracy, complacency and – quite simply – a lack of understanding of the appetite for bike riding that exists in this country. As a sport, cycling has evolved enormously here since the late-1980s and there is every reason to be proud of what ‘our’ riders achieve on an international stage, but the halcyon times for local racing are long gone.
In 2023 the so-called NRS (the National Road Series) is a shadow of what it once was. Events have come and duly gone because of a lack of support from the national federation – and numerous other hurdles organisers have to manage – and although there is a long history of success by Australian riders, these days it is usually more because of individual stubbornness than because of a cohesive, unified approach by the sport’s administrators.
We see riders like Jai Hindley, Kaden Groves, Jay Vine and a long list of others ply their trade in style but they do so largely with thanks to the support given by their families, friends and fans… and, because of this, the sport thankfully continues to evolve.
There is every reason to be proud of what Australian riders are doing but, in 2023 at least, this is because they are passionate about their sport and committed to carving out careers that allow them to continue doing what they are exceptionally good at. But the growth of cycling would stagnate if it wasn’t for events like the Bowral Classic.
The Bowral Classic is a ‘gran fondo’ event – ie. it’s not a race, but a ride – and it introduces many to the beauty of cycling. It also challenges riders of all levels, experienced and novice alike. It exposes people to the joy of riding a bike over long distances on variable terrain, and it succeeds because there is a strong community of likeminded people all doing the same thing.
It only takes a quick glimpse of the starting area for the ride on Sunday to understand the level of enthusiasm that exists for cycling in Australia, and the obvious willingness of participants to invest in equipment that they hope will improve their riding experience (and, ideally, their ride times). And yet the support given to the Bowral Classic by organisations like AusCycling is so scant that it could almost be described as disinterested.
The irony of the situation is that it’s highly likely that some future stars of cycling were nestled amidst the peloton of ±3,000 who took to the roads of the NSW Southern Highlands on Sunday. It is events like this that inspire people to ride, to push themselves a little harder than they otherwise might… and from that effort comes satisfaction and motivation to step it up a level.
Still, the quest of the event organisers is not to find the next cycling superstar. The aim of the Cycling Classics series is to showcase an activity that has many benefits in regions around Australia and draw people in to the beauty of all that cycling has to offer. And the event organisers achieved that in style despite many obstacles that stood in the way.
It may not be a race but there is a results sheet and times listed for everyone who took part. There is a finishing order, a reason for some to gloat and for others to consider how they might do things a little better so that they can improve when they next take on a challenge like this.
Some riders were faster than others, some are experienced, some are novices… some are there for fun, and some are there to post a good time. Still, it is not a race, and yet there were plenty of winners on the weekend.
Victory in cycling comes in many forms, and it is not always about who reaches a finish line first.
Sometimes a win comes from achieving something that you once thought was beyond your capabilities, like going faster, or further than ever before. Sometimes just being in a rolling crowd, a collective of others who share your passion, can feel like a conquest. And often the real triumph is simply being able to have a bit of fun on your bike while on a Sunday ride.
The Bowral Classic – and myriad other events like it – is embraced by those who participate because it provides many rewards. Weekends like this, which are filled with many aspects of what make bike riding great, will help cycling continue to grow in Australia. And when that happens, it’s a win for everyone who rides.
It is challenging to organise an event of this nature but the team at Yaffa Media did an outstanding job in rallying support from all involved – bike riders, local businesses, the Wingecarribee shire council, the cycling industry and beyond…
After my experience on the weekend, I know that there is a lot more to the Bowral Classic than gathering 3,000 bike riders in one place and letting them ride around a pretty part of Australia. It is a showcase of cycling and a triumph for the region with many winners and no losers.
– By Rob Arnold