From Gear Up Girl to world class athlete

Doctor Michelle Chen’s husband bought her a bike in 2011 to celebrate her 40th birthday, however she could barely ride it and literally kept falling off. “My two little girls learnt to ride a bike much faster than I did. I have memories of lying on the gravel with grazes on my legs as they went whizzing past!” says Michelle. As a mother and emergency department doctor, Michelle realised she needed to master some new skills, bicycle riding, and quickly signed up to a GEAR UP GIRL workshop and their annual GEAR UP GIRL Ride. Little did Michelle realise that this humble act would lead her to representing Australia as a world class athlete.

“Learning to ride a bike over age 40 for women is intimidating and buying a bike is even worse. Everyone looks really fit and there are all these expensive looking things with gears, so finding a safe and encouraging environment is not always easy. Gear Up Girl had a great atmosphere with people friendly and encouraging. The workshop was instrumental in developing my skills in bike maintenance and fundamental riding techniques including cornering, stopping, starting and climbing. The coaches had experience of riding in groups and local knowledge of places to ride which were safe. It all comes together in a comprehensive, safe and fun workshop which was my launch pad to years of cycling.”

After successfully completing the 20km GEAR UP GIRL Ride in 2011, Michelle decided to put her new found cycling confidence together with some amateur running and swimming. One thing led to another, and it was not long before Michelle was exploring the world of triathlon. After her first sprint distance tri in November 2012, Michelle quickly developed her skills and qualified for the London Age Group World Championships in January 2013. But that was just the beginning!

michele2In 2014 Michelle went on to compete in her first Olympic distance triathlon as well as represent Australia in the Edmonton Triathlon Age Group World Championships for the sprint distance and standard distance. At the Chicago Triathlon World Championships 2015, Michelle competed in the sprint and standard triathlon distances and was the flag bearer for the Australian age group team in the Parade of Nations at the Opening Ceremony.

“I would very happily say that GEAR UP GIRL was one of the main catalysts in my triathlon journey because the bike leg was my weakest as I couldn’t ride in cleats. Gear Up Girl also made the journey so much fun! I don’t really care about splits and times, or what anyone else thinks of me, and the best races I have are the ones I just race for myself,” says Michelle.

And that is what GEAR UP GIRL is all about – developing the confidence and new skills to get out on a bike and have a go. As Michelle’s mum used to say to her “It doesn’t matter how many times you fall off your bike, it only matters how many times you get back up.”

Bicycle NSW presents its annual all female event on Sunday 13 March, now proudly titled the Heart Foundation GEAR UP GIRL Ride. The event welcomes bicycle riders of all ages and abilities from all parts of greater Sydney and NSW. With a choice of a 20, 40 or 60km route, there is something for everyone, demonstrated with the bonus KIDS RIDE FREE.

Gear Up Girl: Ride with Heart Again in 2016

Bicycle NSW is proud to announce that Gear Up Girl, the women’s only series of workshops and annual bicycling event, will once again partner with the Heart Foundation in 2016.

Bicycle NSW CEO, Ray Rice said in celebration of International Women’s Day (8 March), Gear Up Girl will take place on Sunday 13 March to encourage more women to get on their bike.

Gear Up Girl was founded in 2008 as a response to the fact that more men than women are riding their bicycle for recreation and transport,” he said.

“Males are more likely to participate in cycling than females with 22% of males and 13% of females having ridden in the past week. The situation is improving but we need to do more.

“Only seven per cent of Australian women use a bicycle for transport which is why there is an urgent need to get our girls geared up and ridingregularly.”

Heart Foundation NSW, Chief Executive, Kerry Doyle believes getting more women active for sport, travel and leisure will help in turning the tide around on the number of women dying unnecessarily from heart disease.

“Heart disease claims the lives of 24 women every single day.  In fact, it’s the leading cause of death for women here in Australia killing three times as many women as breast cancer.

“Yet, there is good evidence to tell us that by making small changes, such as increasing how physically active a person is can greatly reduce their risk.

“By partnering with Bicycle NSW for the Gear Up Girl event it’s our hope that we can encourage more women to choose physical activities, such as riding a bike, more often,” Ms Doyle said.

As part of the Gear Up Girl event program there will be a number of practical information workshops held throughout 2016 to break down these barriers by providing women with a safe environment to learn essential bike riding skills, share information, meet like minded local women, and find the confidence to get on their bikes.

Gear Up Girl 2015 Video

Bicycle NSW and the Heart Foundation have produced this beautiful video showing the highlights of the 2015 Heart Foundation GEAR UP GIRL Ride. Capturing the energy, inspiration and joy of the riders and volunteers, the video also highlights some of our key messages from our ambassadors Kerry Doyle, Gabrielle Upton, Wendy Machin, Julie Anne Mitchell and you. Enjoy reliving the magic of your ride on Sunday 8 March, and share it with your friends and family, colleagues and community to inspire them to get back on their bike this weekend, and join us in 2016!

YOU MADE OUR DAY – congratulations everyone

On behalf of Bicycle NSW and the Heart Foundation, we hope you are still shining in the afterglow of an amazing ride on Sunday. And it is all thanks to you.

With an official rider count of 978, and our amazing team of 211 volunteers, we had 1,189 bike riders celebrating International Women’s Day and demonstrating we can change the inequities in women’s cycling.

Awesome, amazing, fantastic, delightful, special, fun, ecstatic… are some of the wonderful adjectives you have shared with us over the past few day. Thank you for your enthusiastic feedback and praise for the entire team at Bicycle NSW, and thank you for the important recognition of our volunteers. We could not do it without them, we could not do it without you!

We have loved hearing and seeing your highlights on Facebook and Instagram – keep them coming. Here are just a few of our highlights, but be sure to tell us all yours in our rider survey.

  • 40% growth in riders number and a record breaking year
  • Molly – the powerful 10yr old riding the 40km Classic Ride with her mum, raising over $800 for the Heart Foundation (thanks to the help of her grandmother!)
  • Marie – 85yrs young, and riding 40km Classic Ride with family and friends. Her fourth Gear Up Girl Ride in 5 years
  • Diversity of Ambassadors – politicians, business leaders, CEOs and pro cyclists including Sara Mills, the 18yr old mountain bike pro rider recently selected to the Australian National MTB Development Team.
  • Partnerships – sincere thanks to our partners who all share our vision of encouraging more women to be confident to ride regularly: Heart Foundation, Sutherland Shire Council, Smooth FM, Sydney Olympic Park, Republica Organic, Rolling Wines, Park Bikes
  • Mmmmmmm – Republica Organic, fresh coffee. According to the vendors there was a lot of coffee enjoyed!
  • Volunteers and Eventeamwork – 211 amazing, diverse, dedicated, energized, smiling and cheering volunteers. All with very important technical expertise on hand for the riders, all thanks to the ever amazing Jana and Helen
  • Picture perfect weather (and a cheeky headwind at Kurnell)
  • Scenic cycling route – community gardens, river sides, waterways, market gardens, coastlines and beaches
  • Your stories – everyone’s enthusiastic and generous feedback at the festival finish site as you shared your experiences and adventures
  • The serendipity of Lesley winning the Rolling Wines Vintage Ladies Bike Package, having ridden Gear Up Girl on a borrowed bike. Read the top entries here, and check out the gleeful winners and grinners!
  • The massages – thanks to the healing hands from the students and staff at the Community Services and Health Faculty, TAFE and the Chiropractic Students, Macquarie University
  • And – Channel 10 National News showing how women like to celebrate International Women’s Day.

Congratulations to our Rolling Wines Winners 

Thank you to everyone who entered the Rolling Wines Vintage Bike Competition and congratulations to seven lucky (and talented) winners. Enjoy reading these clever responses to the question “What are you looking forward to doing on your Rolling Wines Vintage Bike?”. The winners were recognized for their creativity and wit, and we loved the diversity from everyone.

The delightful serendipity of this competition, Lesley Cox the winner had ridden GEAR UP GIRL on a borrowed bike, and got to take home a brand new bike of her own. So plenty more riding for Lesley and the 14 ‘Inner Strength’ girlfriends she rode with.

We would like to thank our partner Cumulus Wines for the wonderful support of Rolling Wines at the Heart Foundation GEAR UP GIRL Ride in 2015, and helping to encourage more women to ride.

Winner of the Rolling Wines Vintage Bike Competition

Lesley Cox

Rolling along in style,
Wines are chilled and carried with ease,
Vintage style is one to admire, so
Bike with me and shoot the breeze.

Rolling Wines Winners1
Lesley Cox on her new bike

Second Place Winner

Patricia Hayward

Swing leg over the top tube? Once done with ease,
Before rheumatoid disease.
Gentle step-through, now, lifting only knees?
That’s vintage which would greatly please.

Rolling Wines Winners2
Patricia Hayward

Runners Up

Rhiannon Evans

Ride my Bicycle everywhere. Ride it with pride and care. Enjoy the freedom it would bring. Checking out places now till spring!


Julie-Anne Roche

I’m looking forward to embracing my inner vintage and enjoying the adventure of rolling in my neighbourhood on a sunny Sydney afternoon with my family.


Samara Kitchener

I would give this bike to my mum. Then she can join my daughter and me on our cycling adventures. 3 generations on 6 wheels!


Heather Boardman

Sherides done,
Cycling, friends, fitness, fun!
Gear up Girl: challenge to come.
To Orange – great wine; that I’d like,
Riding the Rolling Wines Vintage Bike


Mel Bingham

On my red vintage bike,
You don’t notice the hike,
But the scenery that surrounds
And the beauty that astounds,
Rolling on my red vintage bike.

Community leaders join push to get Sydney women cycling this International Women’s Day

Political, business and community leaders will ‘gear up’ this International Women’s Day as part of efforts to redress Australian women’s low levels of participation in bicycling.

The Heart Foundation GEAR UP GIRL Ride on Sunday 8 March is Sydney’s largest female-only recreational bike ride. The initiative of Bicycle NSW aims to increase the number of women in NSW who bicycle for recreation or transport.

NSW Minister for Family and Community Services, The Hon. Gabrielle Upton, deputy president of the NRMA Wendy Machin, and chief executive of the Association of Superannuation Funds of Australia Pauline Vamos are among those supporting the event. Each is an ambassador for GEAR UP GIRL 2015 and will take part in the ride.

Presently, only 7% of Australian women use a bicycle for transport. A 2013 survey by the Heart Foundation found more than 60 per cent of women said they would like to cycle more often, but were inhibited by a number of concerns including safety.

Heart Foundation NSW Chief Executive Kerry Doyle(pictured) said the charity was partnering with Bicycle NSW to host GEAR UP GIRL not only to get women bicycling for its heart health benefits, but also to assist in removing barriers to participation.

“Heart disease is still the number one killer of Australian women, and many women are risking their heart health by not being active enough,” Ms Doyle said.

“Through GEAR UP GIRL, we hope to highlight that bicycling can be a fun and enjoyable way for women to exercise with friends and family.

“We also want to spotlight that helmet hair, getting sweaty and a fear of getting their dress caught in a bicycle chain are not the only barriers to more women cycling. Women are being let down by a lack of safe cycle ways.

“In a 2013 survey we conducted with the Cycling Promotion Fund, 50% of women said that the thing that was most likely to get them riding more often was having more separated cycle paths, bike lanes and wider lanes on the road.

“We want both state and local governments to ensure safe walkways and cycle ways are incorporated into future planning decisions, and are actively calling for this change in the upcoming NSW election.

“GEAR UP GIRL demonstrates that when safe cycle ways are available, women do bicycle ride and can really enjoy their journey,” Ms Doyle said.

Bicycle NSW Communications & Advocacy Director Sophie Bartho said the event, founded in 2008, was expected to attract 1000 women and children in 2015.

“Women are the change agents in our communities. We hope by encouraging women to ride, eliminating barriers to participation and growing their confidence, they can bring others to this important and healthy lifestyle,” Ms Bartho said.

“By showing the community the existing cycling infrastructure including cycleways and bike lanes, it is proven that women will ride more regularly. The popularity for the event demonstrates the growing demand for more safe cycling infrastructure.”.

Women from all walks of life take to bicycle riding

Political, business and community leaders will ‘gear up’ this International Women’s Day as part of efforts to transform Australian women’s low levels of participation in bicycling.

Bicycle NSW is proud to have the support of women from all walks of life riding the Heart Foundation GEAR UP GIRL Ride on Sunday 8 March. With a commitment to increasing the number of women cycling, Bicycle NSW has created Sydney’s largest women’s only recreational bike ride to encourage more women to take to their bikes and enjoy the joy and freedom of riding.

“Sunday morning rides are a long standing tradition in our household and something I look forward to every week. It’s not just great exercise but a fantastic way to see your neighbourhood, your city and the world. Fingers and cleats crossed I will keep cycling down the road for many more years,” says The Hon. Gabrielle Upton, Minister for Family and Community Services(pictured).

As the popularity in cycling continues to grow, and sales of bicycles outstrip sales of cars, it is no surprise that the Deputy President of the National Roads and Motorists Association (NRMA) Wendy Machin is actively supporting this event.

“Cycling is a great way to maintain an active lifestyle. Many NRMA Members ride bikes to get around as well as for fun, and Gear Up Girl is a fantastic opportunity for women to get on a bike and raise money for a good cause. I can’t wait to get peddling!” said Ms Machin.

Chief Executive of the Association of Superannuation Funds of Australia Pauline Vamos sees bicycle riding as an important physical activity for all ages and life stages.

“Bike riding is low impact and provides a social outlet and we should all be riding into our ‘80s. It does however take practice and we need to build confidence, and what better opportunity to meet prospective bike buddies than at this event,” said Ms Vamos.

The event highlights the health and social benefits of bicycle riding and reminds women of the positive environmental impacts.

“As a woman committed to cycling to and from work, I’m thrilled to be a Gear Up Girl Ambassador. I love cycling because it’s great for my heart, it’s an easy way to be environmentally friendly, and I can always find a free parking spot!” says Jacqueline Arias, Founder & CEO, República Organic, Australia’s first fair trade organic coffee brand.

Heart Foundation NSW Chief Executive Kerry Doyle said the heart health charity was partnering with Bicycle NSW to host Gear Up Girl to highlight that bicycling can be a fun and enjoyable way for women to exercise with friends and family.

“Heart disease is the number one killer of Australian women, and being physically active for 30 minutes a day is one of the key ways women can reduce their heart disease risk,” Ms Doyle said.

“On March 8 we hope to show that when safe cycle routes are available, women do bicycle ride and can really enjoy their journey.”

With an expected 1,000+ women and children riding together, there will be no shortage of inspiring stories and delightful coincidences as women from all over greater Sydney, and from all walks of life, ride together. “I love how in a crowd of hundreds of diverse women, you always find a commonality that goes beyond the bike. The ringing of bike bells is interrupted by laughter and squeals of delight as the community of women connect on numerous levels and share their stories”, says Sophie Bartho, Bicycle NSW Communications & Advocacy Director.

Wendy shows us – it’s never too late to learn to ride a bike

I never had a bike as a child. I grew up in Canberra surrounded by acres of bike friendly open space but walking got me where I wanted to go so I never learned to ride. Moving to Sydney for work pushed pedal power even further back – no way was I going to battle with the traffic.

When everyone here at the Heart Foundation started talking about the Gear Up Girl ride, I imagined I’d help out on the day – handing out cold drinks, welcoming back the weary riders –  but I wasn’t planning to ride.

But somehow all their enthusiasm infected me and I decided if I didn’t join the ride I was going to miss out on a lot of fun.

But first, I had to learn to ride a bike. So every weekend for the past couple of months, I’ve hired a bike from one of the local bike shops and joined the throngs wheeling around Narrabeen Lagoon. Cyclists big and small, riding with and without training wheels, wobbling over the track and sailing along between the masses, the shared path around Narrabeen Lagoon is an ideal place to learn. Everyone’s pretty friendly, and me and the toddlers can’t do too much damage to ourselves or anything else.

While I’m not yet up to daily commuting by bike into the city, at least I feel confident I can join everyone for the 20km Beach Ride exploring Cronulla. And now I’ve got a taste for it, there are a few more paths on my list to explore next.

Wendy Oakes, Senior Policy and Advocacy Manager, Heart Foundation

Councillor Sylvie Ellsmore (Greens), Chair of Marrickville Council’s Transport Committee

“As a regular rider in inner west Sydney, it’s fantastic to see a growing number of women cyclists. Cycling is about making our cities more liveable and healthy – making it easy to be active by using active travel to work, to the shops or to visit friends, without a car! After the City of Sydney, the Marrickville Council area has the largest and fastest growing number of cyclists. The key challenge we have is making it easy and safe for people to travel by bike through Sydney. Concerns about safety and the gaps in our current bike path networks are two of the main barriers to more women getting on their bikes. Growing a genuinely safe bike path network for Sydney is the responsibility of all levels of government. Changes are happening, it just needs to happen faster. Big thanks to Bicycle NSW for the Heart Foundation GEAR UP GIRL Ride and all the other work you do to make cycling more accessible for everyone. Looking forward to cycling with you on March 8th!

Councillor Sylvie Ellsmore (Greens), Chair of Marrickville Council’s Transport Committee