The 18th ABFC Gathering
By Robbie Dow / Bike Friday Sales Manager
The 18th Annual Gathering of the Australian Bike Friday Club (ABFC) took place in early April 2014, and I was quite fortunate to be a part of it.
Before the trip started, I was looking forward to meeting several Australian Bike Friday owners, people I’d only talked to via phone and email. However, I was a bit worried about the group rides, as it was nearing the end of winter in Eugene, and I really wasn’t in cycling shape.
Also, while I had ridden longer rides on other bikes, my experience with my Bike Friday Silk was limited to commuting and other short rides, so I wasn’t really sure how it would hold up to the 50km and 60km group rides planned for the event. There’s only one way to find out!
I flew from Eugene to Los Angeles, and then to Sydney, a day later than originally planned due to a visa glitch. The flight to Sydney was only about half full, and I was fortunate to have a row of three seats to myself. This meant I was able to sleep for about 8 hours total, which helped make the 15 hour flight a bit more bearable.
When I arrived in Sydney, Bike Friday owner George Leindekar was kind enough to meet me at the airport and ride the commuter train with me to Central Station in Downtown Sydney. George then helped me get set up on the train to Mt. Victoria. I had two Bike Friday travelcases (one with my Bike Friday Silk, and another Silk that I brought along for the trip), a third suitcase with my personal belongings, and a backpack. I am quite thankful to George for his help, as I don’t know how I would’ve managed with all of my belongings without him.
Even though I was exhausted and jet-lagged, I couldn’t stop looking out my window of the train and taking in the surroundings. The city gave way to countryside, and the train slowly worked its way up an incline through the Blue Mountains to Mt. Victoria. When I arrived at my stop, Bronwyn Laing of the ABFC picked me up, and we went over to her place for a short time before getting back in the car and driving to the town of Rylstone.
Here’s the interesting thing about the ABFC gatherings. The event originally started as a day ride, expanded to a weekend, and kept growing in size over the years. The 18th annual event spanned five days and attracted 138 attendees, mostly from Australia, but also a few people from other countries. Even still, the five days of riding weren’t enough for some, so a dozen or so riders planned pre-event rides.
I met the rest of the pre-event crew in Rylstone, and then I assembled my Bike Friday and prepared it for the next day. We had a fantastic dinner at the local pub/hotel, and I shared a room at the pub with fellow Bike Friday Silk owner, Mitsuo Tadokoro, who was visiting from Japan. The next morning I headed off on my first ride of the trip, a 55km outing to the town of Mudgee.
The ride was amazing — lots of grazing land, with beautiful rolling hills. Early on I saw a wallaby in a field along the road, and there’s just nothing like seeing a wild animal as you ride past on a bike. Riding on the left side of the road took a little getting used to, but by the end of the trip it seemed fairly natural.
We stopped for lunch at a small one-room school in the town of Lue. The teacher came out of the classroom and welcomed us. She said we could use the covered outdoor tables in the school yard (it had warmed up quite a bit, so the shade was certainly appealing) for our lunch, and she even offered us tea and coffee!
After we ate, 18 or so curious and enthusiastic grade school children came outside to meet us, and next thing I knew I was answering questions about Bike Fridays and America one after the next. One of the children asked why I talked so funny. Another boy was about as tall as me, and when one of his classmates pointed out that the two of us were the same height, the boy said, “Hooray, I’m an American!”
I didn’t know what to expect on my visit to Australia, but I certainly didn’t expect to interact with a group of eager school kids. It was a real treat.
We rode some more, and eventually the rest of the pack pulled away from me as I began to lose steam. I arrived in Mudgee in last place (not that we were racing), and this is where riding on the left side of road became a bit more of a challenge for me, as there were numerous roundabouts running clockwise with quite a bit of car traffic.
Fortunately, the drivers were courteous, and I fumbled my way through the roundabouts to the campground, or as it’s known in Australia, “caravan park.” I’ve never seen so many Bike Fridays in one place at the same time, and I work for Bike Friday! I was also surprised to see so many tandems and tikits, but they performed on the long rides just as well as the other Bike Fridays.
The next several days were a blur of riding, meeting people, answering questions, and seeing what people have done with their Bike Fridays. The day rides around Mudgee were incredibly beautiful, with more rolling hills, and a plethora of wineries and grassy fields. The Aussie Bike Friday folks were exceptionally friendly, and everybody went out of their way to make me feel quite welcome. They’re also quite passionate about their Bike Fridays.
Often, I would forget I was on the other side of the planet. But then a car would drive past on the left side of road, or I would hear people would talk with an Australian accent, and I would realize where I was. One person corrected me when we were discussing the brake levers on his Bike Friday: “It’s not ‘levers,’ it’s ‘leevers.’” So I pronounced it “leevers” for the rest of the trip.
This year, the club set aside a time for people to sign up to give presentations and share their experiences traveling on their Bike Fridays. This proved to be a really popular event, and it was fun hearing about all the places people have gone, and the unique experiences they’ve had on their Bike Fridays.
Friday was the longest ride of the event, the “pub ride.” There was a shorter version of the long ride, but I missed the turn for that one and ended up taking the long ride, which ended up being around 70km. We met at a rural pub — the Cooyal Hotel — and I was ready to stop and relax with some lunch. It was fun to see all the Bike Fridays lined up outside, like brightly-colored, small-wheeled biker gang.
Saturday was “fancy dress day,” and several people dressed up in costumes for the day’s rides. That evening, we all gathered at the local country club for a banquet dinner. I gave a presentation about Bike Friday — who we are, what we’ve been doing, and what’s to come. This was followed by a charity auction that raised over $4,000 for Guide Dogs Victoria, an organization that provides services for vision impaired people, including assistance with tandems, so vision impaired people can ride a bike.
On Sunday, I skipped the group ride so I could focus on packing and getting ready to leave. I caught a ride to one of the area wineries where the gang had assembled for a final lunch. I was able to say goodbye to several people before I left. Unfortunately, I missed many people I would’ve like to have said goodbye to, but I guess I’ll just have to catch them next year.
So how did the Silk do? Smooth as Silk. The Alfine 11 hub gave me a nice, wide gearing range, and the only maintenance I had to do was a brief tweak of the shifter cable. Some of the riding was on rough, bumpy gravel roads, and I was surprised at how well the bike handled the terrain. I’m considering switching from a 60t to a 55t belt ring for better hill climbing gearing, as I only really used the top end gears on steep downhill slopes. I’m also considering a lightweight Pocket Crusoe for next year’s event, which will be held in the town of Mansfield in the Australian Alps.
After the event, I had a few days before my flight left, and I’m especially thankful to Bike Friday owners David and Jenny Ingham, who were gracious enough to let me stay at their beautiful house in Manly. I was also able to do a little exploring in Manly Beach and Sydney, which proved to be a lot of fun.
The night before my flight, I was invited to an amazing dinner at a French Bistro with a dozen or so Bike Friday folks, and it was a fantastic way to close out the adventure. I am just amazed at how something as simple as a shared interest in a travel bicycle can bring together so many people to become life long friends.
It’s the magic of Bike Friday.