I am not an exceptional cyclist. In fact, I can best be described as an average cyclist. Average in that my motivation for riding centres around fitness, friendship and a desire to be outside. However, given a challenging event on the horizon my motivation shifts in pursuit of a little suffering. I take a certain joy in pushing myself to the point where my body hurts in a way I can sustain.
Over the years I have chased this feeling numerous times, generally with my my father (Phillip) and occasionally my brothers beside me. Each January, we would head to the high country in Victoria, Australia to do battle in the mountains with 3000 other Audax riders in search of their own joy.
This year I wanted something different. So did Phil. We also longed for something that pushed our riding in a different direction, that conjured up just a little of the magic associated with the great Spring Classics. Our thoughts led us to the racing battlegrounds of northern Europe: the cobbled and gravel sectors.
A gravel sector has the wonderful ability to take the most experienced rider and cause them endless grief, just as the pavé has done to countless champions over the years. One rider will only see the next rock waiting to tear out a side wall. The next will give his or her bike to the road, floating across the gravel with ease.
It does not matter from which subset of the cycling community you come from, the gravel will treat you with indifference. It has an innate tendency to bring riders together that otherwise would never cross paths on the road. Tubes are exchanged, canisters spent and tips passed on. Concentration is paramount and before long the pain is balanced with elation at having mastered the ‘gravé’. A brief fellowship is formed through the adversity faced together.
Together Phil and I discussed these emotions and how we could share them with others. It was the beginning of spring. The beer was great and the BBQ was cooking on the verandah. It was here that the Dirty 130 and the Gears and Beers Festival were born. The ride would take in quiet country lanes and be segmented by four gravel sectors and the festival would be the joyous finale worthy of the previous hardship on the bike.
Our family was around us as we planned and the excitement that we felt rubbed off. As it happened, Phil had recently been elected President of the local Rotary Club, a club that routinely went over and above for the community and would have the brute strength required to host an event of this size.
Community is everything to a Rotary club and it became the core value of the Gears and Beers Festival. We all have a family, be it relatives or close friends. When our families come together the community grows. Over the years this has become more apparent. The Spring Classics are great, but the fans make them so. Our biggest fans are our family. To celebrate this, we created a festival dedicated to craft beer and quality food where riders could meet their families at the end of the day and retell the glory of their deeds.
As with anything new there is the chance of the unexpected. All around the fellowships formed on the bike were being renewed. The festival had given them grounds to flourish. Riders from around the country were seeking each other out to repay debts owed from the road. A kransky sausage, a beer or a handshake. It did not matter. Families converged and once again our sport was evolving here in the community.