Ben, so good to see you back on the bike after your recent hiatus and thank you for everything you have done for VCC over the past 10 years. How did you first find yourself at Vikings Cycling back in the day?
I started with the club as part of the first group in the novice program in 2006. Since then I have been a behind the scenes member, not getting too involved in the running of the club but helping organise races, bunch rides (like the Norman and PROD), moderating the forum, helping organise training programs and squads like V-Mobile etc. Generally a non-committed dogs-body who hung around like a bad smell for perhaps too many years. I was very active with the V-Mobile squad, which was an off-shoot of the first novice program and helped build the club to what it is today. I was honoured to be club captain for a year or so recently and in the last 18 months or so I’ve taken a step back to revitalise and I am just getting back into training.
What are your recollections of your earliest years?
Simon Dwyer was responsible for bringing me, and a multitude of other members, to the club back in 2006. I’d just bought a road bike and Simon (then a PhD student in my department at ANU at the time) was also new to the sport and keen to learn how to ride one. His membership of the club was a chance event and he soon contacted John Armstrong to organise a novice training program over 8 weeks to teach people bike handling and racing skills. The first novice program was open to riders who wanted to be a member of any club and we had support from individuals from both VCC and CCC. Fiona Hedgecoe from CCC, for example, was one of the first novice mentors and JA is of course a long standing CCC member who has injected a great amount of enthusiasm into the Vikings over the years. The program managed to boost club membership almost overnight and the enthusiasm for the program and having a bunch of like-minded people riding bikes was infectious. From the program sprang the Norman, the PROD, the club web forum, the V-Mobile squad and eventually most of the committee membership and club operation that we have today, among a multitude of other benefits and people.
I came onto the scene when the club was already 10 years old, but my first impression was that things were very lean. I went to my first club AGM and we barely had quorum. I think there were more loaves of bread at the AGM bbq than there were members! Dale Inabinet and Dave New were doing an amazing job running the show along with a small band of dedicated volunteers, and seemed to be involved in running every club event. It was an incredibly friendly atmosphere and very encouraging for new riders like me. Races were regular and relatively quiet but numbers have progressively grown at Vikings events since.
Most road races were down around Tharwa and Uriarra Homestead, while CCC ran the Wednesday crits at Kingston (on a square, closed-road course where the locals hurled abuse from the side-lines) before Stromlo opened. The most regularly attended event were the Monday afternoon ITTs run happily by Dave New and Hazel Hosskison. They used to simply drive up to the Stromlo entrance and Dave would set up a few signs and open the back of his car to set up a makeshift rego desk. Hazel would drive 6 k’s along the road and set up the turn-around. I’m pretty sure they did it without walkie-talkies, they were that well organised. We’d pay Dave $2 and line up for the ITT. It couldn’t be simpler and it was an event that we all made good use of back then. I recall Nathan Haas showing up occasionally to stretch his legs. It would be great to see this event return one day.
What have been some of the high points of your years with the club?
Seeing the number of club members at The Tour of Bright increase every year has been an ongoing high point for me. In the early years of my membership I felt too weak a rider to compete at such a big event and never went, but the stronger riders like Simon Niemeyer and Simon Claringbold would always be there and always do well and represent the club. Simon Dwyer, Lyndsey Vivian, Josh Conry and Claire Jones were among the first of the regular grade riders that I saw take the plunge and in subsequent years the growing V-Mobile squad would always send a contingent to race. Some were very competitive while many of us were barely hanging on. I think it was that tenacity and the knowledge that any club rider could have a good time on a gruelling 3 stage event, no matter what the result, that people kept going and flying the Vikings flag. It’s been like an avalanche ever since. Vikings are now regularly recognised at Bright and well-regarded across all grades and I think it’s a massive credit to the club to show off its colours on the national stage.
The ongoing novice program is also a high point. It seems to be more and more popular and I see more and more people wearing Vikings kit around Canberra than I ever have before. The only problem is that we seem to be always finding incredibly capable riders who are keeping me in purgatory grade for my entire cycling career!
What were some of the low points?
The club has had a number of stoushes with individuals over the years who have preferred the club just disappeared. This has been incredibly disheartening and generated a lot of anger and ill-will between people. But the upshot has always been that the club just sticks to its guns and continues to do what it does, and does it well. The members enjoy it and the haters just get more bitter, and that’s probably the best outcome we could wish for!
One major low point was a bunch accident on an old Norman route some years ago. Luckily I was (as is common these days) having a sleep-in and wasn’t there, but got an early morning call from Simon Dwyer to say that a car had driven (probably deliberately) into the bunch on Cotter Rd at the Tuggeranong Parkway overpass. Several riders came down, including Sue Powell, and one rider had severe facial injuries and his bike destroyed. The driver left the scene and despite being chased down by a passing driver, was eventually only given a warning by police. This event highlighted the dangers of riding on the road and the lack of consideration it would appear that the general public has for cyclists. However, I’ve been lucky to see things slowly improve over the past few years and feel that our lot is improving. Every year I see more riders on the road in Canberra and more is being done by groups like Pedal Power to improve our position on the road.
How has the club change over your period as a member?
The club has gone from strength to strength and the number of active participants is continually growing. When I joined the club the committee was dominated by the dedicated parents of junior members (some of whom had actually moved on from cycling but their parents had stayed put), who worked hard for the club with very little in return. I was always amazed at their level of contribution when many of them either never got to ride their bikes or who were really there to unselfishly support their kids. Now, however, the novice program has drawn in so many enthusiastic members who are just so excited to have found a group of people with common interest. We seem to get people jumping in to help or to offer ideas at a level we never would have in the past (although I am sure the president and other committee members still find themselves with the bulk of the work!). The club seems to be in good hands for a bright future.
What was your greatest achievement with the club?
My claim to fame is that I named the Norman. It’s a very uninteresting story but I am willing to tell anyone who will buy me a beer. I was there at the first Norman (along with Simon Dwyer, Lyndsey Vivian and Gordon Saunders) and watched it grow to become a huge weekly event over the years, even doing the ride brief for some years in all sorts of weather. It’s been an honour to see the ride change and thrive over the last 10 years, knowing it’s humble origins.
My greatest achievement would have to be acting as club captain. It was a great honour to hold the #1 race number, but even more so to hand it over to Andy Collins, who I believe is unrivalled as the most active and probably best captain the club has seen. Keep it up Andy!
The inaugural “Best Wheel” award in 2012 is also up there as a great achievement and recognition from my fellow clubbies. On the road I have had few wins, so they all tend to stick in my head when they happen. I’ve managed to snag ACT champ medals in crits, ITT and hill climbing but the road race still eludes me. It’s been an enormous honour to get any sort of medal in the ACT with so many incredible riders in my age group. A couple of cash wins at handicaps around the place have also been memorable moments and it’s always an achievement to think that your training has paid off.
Standing on the podium in Vikings kit at the Frank Long Memorial Road Race in Hamilton (Vic) in 2012 was a huge achievement and one I’ll never forget.
Who were the memorable personalities in the club during your tenure and for what reason?
Simon Dwyer is clearly the most memorable for so many members as he shaped the club into what it is today. He was the level head when it was needed, the guiding hand and the tireless worker. The club will always be indebted to him.
Jamie Young was one of the club’s hardest working volunteers in my early years (Jamie was also a novice in the first intake in 2006). He helped set up the forum, ran races and larger events (the National Masters Champs for example), and regularly gave the rider brief at the Norman for a number of years. He was also well known for the incredibly shitty bike he rode as a novice. God was it a shameful thing!
Sue Powell is memorable for obvious reasons. Also one of the early novices, it’s been a joy to watch Sue grow from a club grade racer into an international superstar. What’s even better is that we are the same size and can share bikes!
Michael Milton has been a constant around the club since the first novice program. I met Milto on my first novice day with Simon D. Milto has been great to have around and remind us all to HTFU when we have a little whinge. I recall a hilarious one-legged climbing lesson he gave Leigh Taylor once riding up Red Hill. Suffice to say that Leigh suffered greatly.
Daryl Cram (Daz) is our club magic mushroom taster and a great member of the club. He showed up half-way round the second ever Norman, somewhere near Scrivener Dam if I recall correctly, and has been a constant fixture since. He is ever present with the novice and lifestyle riders and is one of the clubs most valuable assets in this regard. Don’t ever change Daz!
And who can forget Lee Sheather. Enough said.
What was/were some of the lighter hearted moments of your time with the club?
There were far too many of these to pinpoint just one.
What can the new generation of junior and novice cyclists learn from you old folk!
I really consider myself as one of the ‘middle-aged’ members of the club. There are numerous more senior members who I look up to in awe and with a great deal of respect. If there’s one lesson I’d pass on it’s that no matter how old a rider is, no matter what type of bike, thinning knicks or ugly old helmet they wear, every rider deserves your respect for just being out on the bike. In Canberra, it seems that just about any rider you come across could well be a world champion, either in the past or in the making. Everyone can pass on some wisdom to you, and if you don’t realise that then they’ll probably pass on an arse kicking next time you come to a head-to-head sprint!
How would you describe your own cycling back then, compared to now?
Back then I simply had no idea. I tended to ride too conservatively and not know my limits, nor dare to approach them. I was an also-ran with very little idea. These days I have a few ideas but not much else has changed. I’ve had quite a few years of early mornings, so tend to sleep in more these days and head out for a lot more endurance rides on my own rather than heart-popping efforts in a bunch. My power profile suggests I am an ‘all-rounder’ but given I’ve never really jumped beyond C-grade I think that really makes me exceedingly mediocre at everything.
Is there anything else that you want to share?
A huge thank you to all who have sacrificed their time, race-schedules and sometimes hard-earned cash to support the club over the years. We wouldn’t be having a 20th year celebration without you all.