Cycling my way to health

Written by Rachel Leach

I had been feeling rough for a couple of years, with an array of symptoms that the doctors couldn’t pin down into a diagnosis.  I felt nauseous, weak and tired, every day. Basically, the classic pregnancy symptoms, without being pregnant.  Then I got gastro and spiraled downhill quickly. 

An ambulance delivered me to the emergency department where the doctors diagnosed me with Addison’s Disease, a fairly rare autoimmune disease where your adrenal glands are no longer functioning.  Adrenal glands provide your body with the natural energy it needs to function - cortisol.  As well as the symptoms mentioned above, a key hallmark is darkened, pigmented skin, which had crept up on me gradually and hadn’t been noticed as an obvious symptom. 


It was a good news story - the condition could be fully managed through medication! All I had to do was pop steroid tablets twice a day to replicate what my adrenals should have been producing.   But it took a while to refine the dose, with my initial dose way over what my body needed.  The effect of that was weight gain - lots and fast!

I felt my health spiraling out of control and decided to take action.  I bought a bike. I rode with my kids. I rode to work.  I rode with friends.  I fell in love with cycling.  I started running. I joined a gym.  I carried on cycling.  I rode my way to health and fitness.  I had already done the 10km Spring Financial Group Spring Cycle a number of times with my small children, but had previously had to push my bike up the hills.  Now I charged up them! And my distances got longer and faster. 

I joined Strava and raced myself every day.  A group of friends decided to do Heart Foundation Gear Up Girl in 2017 which prompted lots of fun training rides and then the event itself, which was awesome.  A fun, flat, leisurely group ride to Cronulla.  That snowballed into doing the MS Sydney to Gong ride in late 2017, the thought of which was very daunting but eventuated to be another fantastic event which I can’t wait to do again.  All up, I cycled over 1,700km in 2017.




Anyone looking to improve their health would benefit from investing in a bike. It doesn’t have to be expensive, just 2 wheels and a few gears will get you going.  It’s so accessible, you can go as easy or as hard as you like.  There are cycle paths dotted around everywhere.  Cycleway Finder is a great interactive resource for planning traffic-light routes.  City of Sydney runs a number of low cost courses and workshops to boost your confidence.  I can personally vouch for the Cycling in the City course, which I did last year.   

Making it to the top (of the hill)

Written by Lisa Darmanin

It’s just over a month before Gear Up Girl, and I’ve never ridden over 60km (and I’ve entered myself in the 80km Challenge Ride). I still struggle to get up the top of the hill and I still get nervous every set of traffic lights having to clip in and out without falling off. However, every time I go for a ride, or make it to the top of the hill, all I want to do is go again!

In my experience as an athlete, the most frustrating thing about sport is about setting your goals and wanting to reach them tomorrow - not in a month, or a year. You want to be a master immediately. However, like all things in life it is about the process, the journey and celebrating the little wins. What I’ve realised is that half the battle is showing up everyday. We’ve all had those moments where we know we should get up and go for a ride or a run, or to the gym, and when you drag your pessimistic self out of the house you come back 9 times out of 10 feeling a lot better.

I still have a fear that I’m not fast enough, that I’m not good enough or maybe I’ll crash. Sometimes I’m afraid to ride with friends because I don’t want to slow them down. However, I realised I’m never going to get better if I don’t practice, and it’s ok to be slow, because every time you get out there on your bike, you're better for it the next ride.  On top of this, it’s much more rewarding and enjoyable conquering the roads with company!

I went for a ride the other day with my older brother, on the same route he first took me on. My heart rate was about 192, I had the death wobbles and just said to myself KEEP ON PEDALLING! The road started to flatten out and I made it to the peak and even though I was trying to keep my breakfast down, I gasped: “That sucked but I did it so much faster than last time!”.

That was celebrating the little win. So even though I’m not the pro mountain goat that I wish I was, I had recognised that I was struggling just that little bit less than last time!

So with just over a month to go to Gear up Girl, I’m not going to tackle this 80km with ease, but it’s going to be a fantastic achievement for me.

Just remember that it’s good to challenge yourself, it’s good to look up the hill and think how am I ever going to get there! It’s about making the uncomfortable comfortable time and time again and when we reach the top of one hill we are driven to aim even higher next time.

10 ways to enjoy riding!

Written by Rachael Nicholls

1Find some friends or family to ride with!
The great thing about riding a bike is that you don't have to wait for an organised activity or game.  You can just get on your bike and ride with friends or family, in your local area and beyond. Alternatively, you can even ride by yourself when you need to get away from school work or that annoying little sister! 
2. Get a good quality bike
Any safe bike is a good bike, but you will enjoy it more if you have one that is properly fitted to you!  Don't go buying a bike because it is cheap - by spending a few extra dollars, you will not only end up with a bike that will last longer, but is also more enjoyable and easier to ride.  A lighter bike also makes it easier to load into cars and carry up stairs of train stations, as well as riding up that steep hill too!  You will find that your kids will also learn how to ride easier and more safely on a well fitted bike.
3. Find a good bike shop
There are some great bike shops around which are very supportive and helpful in preparing you on your riding journey.  A good bike shop will help you find your ideal bike, by understanding what best suits your needs; they will also fit your bike in a way that is most safe and practical for you when spending time on two wheels!
4. Try new things
Bike riding isn't all about lycra or riding on the road. Try mountain biking on a fire trail or even go for an overnight bike ride when you are confident enough. 
Try the local BMX track or check out the local velodrome; you could even try your hand at a crit race with the local cycling club.  You will find that you will be very welcome and are they very encouraging.  If that seems a bit out of reach for you, then find a safe track and ride with your friends.
5. Explore new places
There are heaps of off road cycleways or shared paths around New South Wales.  Check out Mountain Bike Trails in NSW or RailTrails Australia with some great places to explore.  I did the Fernleigh Track a couple of years ago with my family and had an awesome day!  The Cooks River Cycleway that is used as the main route in Gear Up Girl offers a nice ride as well, especially when there is an icecream at the end of the ride.  Mum also likes the chocolate shop that's along the track. 
6. Join a local BUG (Bicycle User Group) or riding group
You'll be amazed at the encouragement you get and the amount of riding buddies you can find.  They quite often also have many organised rides for all different riding abilities. For more information about a BUG or riding group in your area, please visit the Bicycle NSW website
7.  Make small achievable, fun challenges. 
 My favourite is beating Dad up the hill to win a slurpee.  I even beat him in a crit race once and earn't 2 slurpee's! 
8. Stop at the coffee shop with your friends 
You have to make sure you continue to stay hydrated when out riding, especially on a hot day and when going on a long ride. This is a good chance to stop and have some quality time with your friends. If they have mango smoothies that's even better! 
9.  Instead of catching the bus to the shops, ride to the shops
Find an off road and back street route and ride your bike (Google Maps is a good way to start planning your trips, just use the cycling option).   If you're going to a big event such as Australia Day at Parramatta Park, do what my family did and park your car in a back street and ride your bike the rest of the way. 
You will find that many big events are located in parks that have cyclepaths leading into them and it's a great way to beat the traffic congestion.  Some bigger events even have free bike valet parking.   It's a good idea though to test the route before the big day.  
10. Learn basic maintenance
It's easier than you think and will save you a long walk home.  There are a range of basic maintenance courses being held by Bicycle NSW in the coming months, with more information found here.
You could also look on Youtube, where many videos which explain simple maintenance can be found... even my nine year old sister can change a tyre! 

Training while on holiday

Written by Sue Devlin

Going away on holiday? How exciting!!!!  A holiday can mean many things; relaxing, exploring and learning about the wonderful world we live in.  There are many ways by which you can holiday, from relaxing in a resort; staying in hotels and locally with companies like Airbnb; backpacking; or going on an amazing adventure. Whatever type of holidaymaker you are, there are ways that you can still train for your next cycling event!


Most hotels and resorts have a gym, where you’ll find your stationary bike.  Get on down there early in the day, have a spin and walk away feeling a sense of accomplishment, before enjoying a good breakfast and the day that lays ahead.  It is also a good way to stay active on a rainy day, when your other plans may be disrupted. 

Guided tours

Guided tours are a great way to see a city.  You can often travel further than when on a walking tour, while learning about the city you are visiting.  Many cities in Europe have guided tours.  You will need to be reasonably confident on a bike as you’re quite often riding through busy streets, with both pedestrians and traffic to be aware of.

Self guided tours

Self guided tours are similar to guided tours, usually around a city, or they can be further afield where you are riding from one destination to another.  We had a great self guided tour in the Netherlands.  We were based in Gouda in a small boutique hotel and had a GPS which tracked our three days of riding.  We could choose from short or long rides, depending on the weather and how far we felt like riding.  Again, in Europe you can ride from one country to another with some companies giving you vehicle support in moving your luggage to the next stop.

Hiring bikes

If you want to do your own thing, there many cities that offer bike hire.  There’s a range of bikes on offer - hybrid, road, mountain and e-bikes.  We had a great experience in NZ, where the bike hire company delivered to our accommodation, before returning to pick them up two days later.  This gave us the opportunity to ride like a local and also to explore further afield.

There are many ways to keep cycling while on holiday.  They may not be what you’re used to, or on a bike that is similar to your own, but they are all beneficial. You enjoy a purposeful workout and if you’re outside, you get the added option of seeing a city from a bike.

You can ride with us

Written by Asha Baines

Is it just me or does it seem we live in a time where we are expected to be an expert at everything. If we are all faking it till we make it, have we lost the ability to ask for help?

I am a beginner cyclist. There I said it. Like many, as child I spent my childhood riding a bike. After a horrible crash when I was 9 years old I stopped riding altogether. I decided there were plenty of other things to do instead. Then a couple years ago after a hip injury I was told by a doctor I could never ride a bicycle again.  ‘Never’ is a strong word asking to be challenged. Rehabilitation turned into fitness. As my body grew stronger I looked for different ways to challenge it. Last year it seemed all my friends were either doing cycle events, triathlons or ironman. I wanted to join in, I had the fitness level, as a spin instructor my body could go through the motion of cycling but I couldn't ride a real bike. 

Late last year a friend put the call out, Lets do Gear up Girl. I was in. I remembered the photos and smiles of friends from the year before. Gear up Girl looked fun and accessible. I was ready to tackle the big one, get back on the bike… but then what? A couple non cyclist friends quickly quipped “everyone can ride a bike” “don’t be ridiculous, its just like riding a bike - wink” . You can imagine my eye roll at that one. So, to stop being so “ridiculous” I took myself to the local bike store. Fear is real and my heart raced as I entered the store. I must of “faked it till I made it” as I was left to myself to wonder and pretend I actually knew what I was looking at. Every bike looked like a spaceship with no instructions, so I quickly but ever so calmly made my way to the exit. 

I got home and asked myself why did I not ask for help? Cyclists seem to be part of there own community. They ride in packs, get up and somehow co-ordinate a ride together, actually know about the gear - bike brands and types of bikes, they wear special clothes and at the cafe they sit together post ride. They don't seem unfriendly (like a pack of mean girls “you can’t sit with us”), but somehow unapproachable. They have their world and I was very much not a part of it. But I am not a shy person ..  so I decided to reach out. 

First to my friend Jo. An avid cyclist, triathlete and casually has done 2 half Ironman events. I asked the simple question - how do I get / choose a bike? Straight away, without a moment of hesitation “You can borrow mine!” Our conversation went on. But I can’t ride, not only would I need to borrow for Gear Up Girl but for months as I learn to ride. What if scratch / smash it?? I got a calm “Yes Asha, and at the end of the day its only a bike, I want you too.” “You can do this!”

So I put the call out to my cycling friends first. Everyone who asked wanted to help me learn or ride with me. Then word spread, acquaintances, friends of friends and members of my gym all wanted to get involved. There experience levels went from advanced to casual riders. Not only did they not care that I was a beginner, they were excited to share knowledge, hints, tips and a coffee after. No-one thought I was “ridiculous” but wanted me to be part of their community. Everyone filled me with confidence that I could do this ride. A friend in my local running group advised that she was part of Cronulla Triathlon Club and they offer a Beginners Bike Skills course, to help gain bike handing skills and confidence. After procrastinating for a few days I contacted the club and again I have been meet with nothing but kindness.

What was I so afraid of. Other then my cyclists friends, When I ask other women to join me for Gear Up Girl I get a whisper back “ I haven’t rid since I was a child” I loudly and proudly say “Neither have I”. 

I have learnt the lesson - Its okay to be a beginner, because the cycling community is ready to welcome you as soon as you ask.

Your body does what your mind tells it

Written by Katherine Werrett

In February, last year I broke my ankle. The medical term for the injury is - Trimalleolar Fracture, with a dislocation and syndesmosis. The everyday term is that it was very, very badly broken and in need of two surgeries.

Prior to the injury in February last year I was having the time of my life. I had recently been bitten by the bike bug and cycling had an influence on every part of my life. One month before the accident I had just completed my longest ride to date, an overnight trip from Newtown to Kiama.

On that ride, I meet a remarkable man, who provided me with support and encouragement along the way. I asked him many questions about his cycling history. He had completed huge trips; his trips were totally inconceivable to me due to the level of difficulty.

His trips were achievable only for those with fierce determination and dedication I thought. I admired his ability, he was very humble and when he saw the amazed look on my face he said, very casually: 

“Your body does what your mind tells it to”

I didn’t know it at the time, but these words would become very important to me, they provided so much comfort for me during my recovery. Whilst I understand that for some people these words are not true/appropriate, for me they gave me strength. I’ll never forget those words as long as I live.

After the accident happened I was non-weight bearing (unable to walk) for over 12 weeks. Hydrotherapy was for me a blessing, both for pain management and for the re-strengthening the ankle. Except I had to get into the freezing cold pool every day (it was well into Autumn) and using my neglected muscles was painful (to say the least). The words inspired me to push through the pain and discomfort. I found that it slowly got better each day. Exercises that made me cry the first time I attempted them were only completed due to that mantra.

It was a slow process, but looking back I am both proud and amazed of what I have accomplished. It was those words that got me through. If I had resorted to saying, ‘I can’t’, which believe me I wanted to, I wouldn't be as fit and strong as I am today. 


So, to anybody out there who wants to push themselves beyond their current level of ability, to achieve something that amazes them, I would say, please use those words. When you believe in yourself and in your ability good things will come. Remember, it all starts in the mind, so make your mind as strong as it can be by believing in yourself. 

What kind or rider are you?

Written by Melanie Carroll

From when I was a little girl until my early 20s, my bike was a source of fun and adventure, a way to keep fit, and the means by which I got to where I needed to go. Until learning to drive, building a career and growing a family gradually took over,  years and years eventually passed since I had ridden at all.

5 years ago my husband was getting back into cycling and I decided I’d get myself a bike. I didn’t want a racing bike like his, with that strange riding position, skinny tyres and hard, pointy saddle – I was after comfort rather than speed.

I wanted to relive the enjoyment of being able to hop on my bike and go where I needed or wanted to go that I remembered from my youth.

However, because I was so used to driving everywhere, I’d underestimated how hilly where I live actually is.

“Popping to the shops” on my bike, usually involved the humiliation of being asked if I was OK by random passers by, as I sat in a crumpled heap by the side of the road, my face the colour of a beetroot. I suppose I could have been grateful for their concern, but I was too embarrassed.

So, once again my bike sat in a corner of the garage, gathering dust.

Over the course of the next 5 years, my husband got more and more into cycling. Riding his bike was not only a way of keeping fit, it was an excellent way to de-stress from work and he was building a network of like-minded friends. Now, not only did he have people to share adventures with, both here and overseas, he had a great bunch of mates who’d look after each other on the road should anything happen.

I was happy for him, but I wanted something different – I don’t want to get up at ridiculous o’clock to go and ride my bike. Riding as far as he does, and up all the hills he climbs doesn’t sound like my idea of fun. Cycling is his main hobby – and although it doesn’t have to be, it can be an expensive one - there are other things I want to do, other things I want to spend my money on.

At the end of last year I re-discovered my love of cycling. This time round, working out the answer to the question ‘what kind of rider do I want to be?’  has really helped. Thinking about where I was likely to want to ride, how often, over what sort of terrain and for how long, has been really helpful in knowing what kind of bike, equipment and clothing I’d need from the bewildering range of options in the shops and online.

I’m 51 and my kids have left home, and I’ve got more time to cycle now than I have had in the past, but I still need my riding to fit in with the rest of my life. These things help me enjoy my cycling:

* A bike rack – means I can easily transport my bike to the places I want to ride.

* An indoor trainer – I’ll confess to being a bit of a fair weather cyclist – the trainer means I can escape the heat and the rain and still get a ride in. It is easy to go to the garage and hop on the trainer around other things I need to be doing. A program like Zwift helps the time pass and introduces a competitive edge.

* A good local bike shop – where you can get good advice about what to spend your hard earned cash on, and help to maintain your bike.

* Other cyclists – sadly in my area there are very few female cyclists, but I’ve found the cycling community to be welcoming and encouraging. And, as I’ve started to explore I’ve found far more support for women in terms of groups to ride with and courses to help us build skills than I’d realised – this is very encouraging and I hope it continues to grow.

So what about you – where do you want to ride? How often can you get out on your bike? Have you found the support you need to be the kind of rider you want to be?

Look At Our Girls Go!

The future is female!  Currently only 23% of NSW bike riders are women and we want to help  change this through the Heart Foundation Gear Up Girl and its community.
Local Sydney girl and our 2017 Gear Up Girl Ambassador, Sarah Roy, is taking this challenge to a national level. Last week in Adelaide she took the Tour Down Under by storm, as part of the pro Michelton-Scott cycling team.
Go woman go! Her team of six claimed the team’s classification title with team mate, Amanda Spratt making history. Spratt is the first female to win the the Tour Down Under two years in a row. An achievement made sweeter as it came from her team and especially by the efforts of Sarah.
Its about working together and supporting each other even though only one will take the glory. Gear Up Girl Ambassador Sarah took the lead in the criterium races and protected her team mates, saving their legs and ultimately enabling them to claim victory. 
Capturing what Gear Up Girl is all about, supporting each other towards a goal. We choose ambassadors who make a different within their local community and help others to get out and enjoy life on two wheels. 
Gear Up Girl is proud to have a such an inspirational female cyclist as a previous ambassador.  Our event is all about raising women up and working as a team,  qualities that Sarah embodies. 
We wish Sarah the best of luck in her future races! Follow all Sarah’s achievements here   

What Motivates You?

Written by Melanie Carroll

1. These guys... but one in particular

In November last year I was part of the crew supporting this group of cyclists who rode from Melbourne to Sydney over 8 days, raising funds for charity and advocating for cyclists. You can catch a glimpse of them in the video below





Between them, these guys rode enough enough kms to go halfway round the world and they climbed uphill the equivalent of 25 times up Mount Everest. It was a wonderful experience to be part of and they were a pretty inspiring bunch.

One day’s ride included the Camberwarra Mountain - over 5kms of climbing at 8% – as we drove the support car past the riders, on our way to get coffees for their well earned break, we were asking them how they were going and cheering them on. One rider told us “I’m having fun.” It made a real impression on me because this man is 65 and yet he is fit and strong enough not just to do the ride, but to be enjoying all the challenges it brought. It really made me stop and think: I want to be fit and healthy enough to be enjoying doing things like this when I am 65, so I’d better get moving more now or it isn’t going to happen. And I have. And I am happy to report that I am having fun too.

2. Carlijn from Bicycle NSW

She has decided that for any journey of less than 15km she will take her bike.  When I heard that I thought – I could do something like that too. When I was younger and couldn’t drive, my bicycle was my main form of transport too, in all kinds of British weather. I rode to school, to work, to uni, to the shops, to see friends, for fun and adventures - why not now? It isn’t always practical – but there are many times when cycling somewhere would be an option, so in 2018 one of my goals is to ask myself ‘could I ride my bike there instead? before I jump in the car. I’d love to live somewhere this attitude was the norm and hoping to be part of the change.

3. Not My Idea Of A Cyclist

I encountered the 3rd person to inspire me whilst driving a support vehicle for another charity ride (if you’re in need of some inspiration yourself, maybe you should consider giving it a go too!) This person not only inspired me, but taught me some important lessons too. This man had trained for the event on an exercise bike, but it had been many years since he had ridden outside. As I drove slowly behind the group of riders, I watched him wobble along, frequently ending up on the wrong side of the road as he worked to get used to his borrowed bike and changing gears to deal with the hills etc. When I wasn’t praying for his safety, I was thinking of the sorts of things I wanted to ask him about his work because I was pretty sure it wouldn’t be long before he’d be sitting next to me in the car with his bike on the rack behind us. Well I was in for a surprise – not only did he ride the 25kms there and back, he rode 25kms that also included riding up and down Bobbin Head.

So what did I learn that day?

I learned that I thought that the only people who could ride up and down Bobbin Head looked like this:

That man didn’t look like that – but he did it. I’d been waiting at the top for the call to come and give him a lift back up the hill  - when the phone finally rang, it was to tell me that he was halfway back up to the top – I could hardly believe it. He knew it would be hard but he wanted to do it, so he took it at his own speed and rested when he needed to, and he did it.

Then it dawned on me, not only did that man not look like these cyclists, nor do I… but if he could do it, then surely I must be able to too?… so I went back later on that day, with my husband next to me for moral support, and guess what? I could do it too! And the next day I went back by myself and did it faster.

I learned that it’s not just other people who can do more than I think they can – I can do more than I think I can too.


So, your turn, who – or what inspires you?

If You’re Not Having Fun, You’re Not Doing It Right

Written by Mel Alderton

I’ll never forget the moment I laid eyes on my first bike. I was about 14 years old, we were going on a family trip to the USA after Christmas so had been told there were no Christmas presents. On Christmas morning Mum threw open the doors to the lounge room (the lounge room was kept for “special”) and there was a shiny red bike! A Malvern Star “Family Star”. Fixed speed, coaster brake, at the time the best bike I’d ever seen! Possibly not the most suitable bike for someone who lived at the bottom of a couple of steep hills, but anyway, it was a bike, something I’d lusted after for a very long time, and given up all hope of getting.

That bike meant I could muck around with the other kids in the neighbourhood.  I spent hours just riding up and down the streets, just having fun. I could join in something everyone else was doing. No helmets in those days either! We lived in a quiet area too, so didn’t have to worry about cars.  I may have even ridden to school a few times – challenging as it was with the hills and single speed!

Of course as I got older, a car license beckoned and those hills suddenly became a lot easier. It wasn’t until I met my husband, an avid cyclist at the time, and was made redundant from a job I had in my early 20’s, that I purchased my first proper road bike – a 12 speed Apollo Delta. I used that bike for a few years, riding with hubby, improving my fitness and bike strength until children came along.  I still have it today, and am hoping to restore it soon.

Over the years I’ve had a number of bikes – mountain bikes, step through “granny bikes”, flat bar road bikes, racing bikes, cruisers - however they have all had one thing in common – they have all brought me great joy. No matter what, they have never failed to lift my mood.


I got serious again about cycling about 7 years ago, after losing weight. I have a family history of heart disease, so decided I needed to do as much as I could to live a full and healthy life. It was at that point I started running, still doing a bit of cycling for cross training, and after seeing some photos of the cycling in a Pinkie Triathlon as Sydney Olympic Park, took up Triathlon.


There is nothing I love more after a hard day at work than to come home, jump on the bike and go for a quick spin around my local area. It blows away the cobwebs, relieves the stress, and lifts my mood instantly. Whether I am on a training ride for my triathlons, riding to my local parkrun, or simply riding around to take photos or drop into the shops, I remind myself how lucky I am to be where I am, and take in my surroundings.


Competing in a triathlon recently, I was observing a large number of riders quite openly breaking the rules, bunch riding and drafting. There was also another two riders drafting and cutting in and out of the other cyclists. I could have let this ruin my day. Instead, I reminded myself of my goals for the day. My goal was to push myself to my limits, and see what my bike could do. I had new race wheels, and it was only their second outing. I shut out everyone around me, and it was just Geraldine and me (yes, I name my bikes!) So despite the behaviour of others, despite the fact it was hot and humid, despite the fact I was one of the last cyclists off the course, I ended up with a PB for the course, a smile on my face, and had a fabulous time.


I have had a few times where I have been off the bike for a various reasons. When I get back on, it reminds me how much I love it. So much so I’ve now taken to commuting by bike/train to work. I can jump off the train early on the way home and go for that post work stress relieving ride! Sure beats sitting in the Sydney traffic. Less stressful, and much better for both my heart and my wallet. I think I’ll be riding for as long as I can stay upright!