Freewheeling explores the experience of cycling. It tells the stories of amateur and professional riders who have felt the joy, excitement, freedom and glory of riding a bike.
Alby Clarke, 2002
Gunditjmara elder Albert ‘Alby’ Clarke at the start of the Nullarbor Plain, 2002. Photo: Mark Coffey.
Alby Clarke crossed the Nullabor as part of a bicycle ride from Perth in Western Australia to Warrnambool, Victoria, at the age of 67. Clarke undertook the trek, covering more than 3000 kilometres, to promote sport and fitness in Aboriginal communities and to foster reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.
Clarke was born and raised at Framlingham Aboriginal Settlement in Victoria. He developed a love of cycling as a teenager and, in 2001, became the first Aboriginal rider to compete in the Melbourne to Warrnambool Cycling Classic Bike Race.
Andrew Gibson, about 1933
Andrew Gibson enjoying his tricycle at Burrungurroolong, near Goulburn, New South Wales, about 1933. Like many children, Gibson's first form of transport was a tricycle. He used this trike to explore the family farm until he left for boarding school in Canberra when he was eight years old. Courtesy: Gibson family.
Anna Meares, 2009
Anna Meares strains as she starts the 500-metre time trial final at the World Track Championship in Poland, 2009. Photo: AFP/Newspix.
Inspired by Kathy Watt’s cycling success, Meares started competitive cycling at the age of 11. At 21, she joined the Australian Institute of Sport's track cycling program and has become one of Australia’s most successful cyclists. She has achieved multiple world championship victories, and is a national and Commonwealth, world and Olympic record holder.
Billie Samuels, 1934
Billie Samuels, with her Malvern Star bicycle, is farewelled by supporters as she sets out to break the record for riding from Sydney to Melbourne, 1934. Photo: State Library of New South Wales (hood_04234).
In May 1934, Billie Samuels, a diminutive 23-year-old Victorian, set the women’s record for riding from Melbourne to Sydney when she completed the journey in 3 days and 17 hours. A few months later, Samuels turned around and rode from Sydney to Melbourne, breaking Elsa Barbour’s 1932 record of 3 days and 7 hours.
Cadel Evans, 2008
Riding a Ridley Helium road bike, and wearing the yellow jersey, Cadel Evans descends amid the peloton during Stage 12 of the 2008 Tour de France from Lavelanet to Narbonne. Photo: Jasper Juinen/Getty Images.
Cadel Evans was born in Katherine, in the Northern Territory, on 14 February 1977 and spent his early years in the remote Aboriginal community of Barunga, before moving first to Armidale, New South Wales, and later to Melbourne. In 1995, Evans took up an Australian Institute of Sport mountain-biking scholarship. Physiological tests at the institute revealed that he possessed the rare combination of an unusually high lung volume and the capacity to absorb more oxygen per breath than 99.9 per cent of the Australian population. This characteristic earned Evans the nickname, ‘The Lung’, and helped him become a dominant force in cross-country mountain biking and, later, one of Australia’s greatest professional road racers. Evans retired from professional cycling in 2015.
Greg Cunningham, 2002
Greg Cunningham riding near Inverell during the Big New South Wales Bike Ride, 2002. Courtesy: Greg Cunningham.
Greg Cunningham has spent decades riding and exploring the world by bicycle. He first developed his taste for long-distance riding in the early 1990s while living in London, from which he completed numerous tours around Britain, Europe and Mexico. He returned to Australia in 1993, and since then, has ridden thousands of kilometres each year on cycling trips, randonnées (designated long-distance rides) and just commuting to work.
Harry Clarke, 1984
Harry Clarke riding his penny-farthing, 'Black Bess', in the Melbourne Moomba Parade, 1984. Photo: Rennie Ellis. State Library of Victoria.
Harry Clarke raced bikes for most of his life, first falling in love with the sport while working as an apprentice engineer in Melbourne during the Second World War. In his late 50s, Clarke impulsively bid on this vintage penny-farthing at an antiques auction. Once he learnt to ride it, and after numerous spills, he successfully competed in the National Penny Farthing Championships in Tasmania for many years.
In 1988, Harry Clarke, as president of the Vintage Cycle Club of Victoria, joined with 23 other cycling enthusiasts for a partial re-enactment of the round-the-world journey made by Melbourne penny-farthing riders George Burston and Harry Stokes in 1888.
Hubert Opperman, 1928
Hubert Opperman leads a four-man team through a village during the Tour de France, 1928. Against experienced squads of 10 men, victory was impossible, but Oppy finished a respectable 18th. The French dubbed him ‘le phénomène’ (the phenomenon), and he took to wearing berets as a tribute to their support. Photo: National Library of Australia ( VN3802604).
Known as ‘Oppy’, Hubert Opperman was one of Australia’s most successful road and long-distance cyclists, and an international cycling celebrity. Born in the small Victorian town of Rochester in 1904, Oppy started racing in Melbourne as a teenager. At 17 he began racing for Malvern Star and Bruce Small, associations he retained for the rest of his life. Oppy died at a retirement village at the age of 91 after he suffered a heart attack while riding his exercise bike.
Jim Coyle, 1976
Jim Coyle at the start of the World Masters’ Games, Austria, 1976. National Museum of Australia.
Jim Coyle began racing bikes when he was 16 years old. After four years’ service with the Australian Imperial Force in New Guinea and Borneo during the Second World War, he took up a job as a waterside worker, and started racing with the Northcote Amateur Cycling Club. Coyle retired from competitive cycling in the 1960s, but made a comeback in the mid-1970s at the age of 50 and raced for another 15 years, finally retiring in 1990.
Kate Leeming, 2004
Kate Leeming cycling around the continent, 2004. Photo: Geoff Yeoman.
Kate Leeming and her riding partner Geoff Yeoman left Canberra in May 2004 on a 25,000-kilometre journey around Australia. Their trip took in more than 7000 kilometres of some of Australia’s most isolated and rugged tracks, including the Cape York Peninsula Development Road, the Gulf Track, the Tanami Track and the Gunbarrel Highway. They visited Aboriginal communities, cattle stations and other remote outposts and towns.
Leeming cycled alone for the second half of her journey, becoming the first woman to pedal the 1800-kilometre Canning Stock Route in remote Western Australia. She returned to Canberra, accompanied again by Yeoman for the last week of the expedition, in February 2005. Leeming is planning to cycle across Antarctica.
Kathy Watt, 1992
Kathy Watt on her way to victory in the Individual Road Race event at the Barcelona Olympic Games, Spain, 1992. Photo: Chris Cole, Allsport.
At the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, Kathy Watt became the first Australian – male or female – to win an Olympic cycling road race. She also won silver on the track in the three-kilometre Pursuit, becoming the first Australian woman to win an Olympic track medal.
Ken Ross, 1917
Ken Ross, 1917. Courtesy Jan Couchman.
Ken Ross was born near Maitland, New South Wales, in 1900. He started racing as a teenager with local clubs at Castle Hill in Sydney. He developed into a versatile racer, capable of great speed over short distances as well as long endurance road and track events.
Ross moved to Europe when he was 20 years old to compete on the lucrative professional racing circuit, and became known as a savvy rider with great stamina. After a few years, Ross returned home and spent the next decade racing at the highest level. Following his retirement, he coached other cyclists.
Peter Heal, 2009
Canberra cyclist Peter Heal at the end of his record-breaking ride, at Sydney's Bondi Beach, 2009. Heal pedalled his recumbent bicycle from Fremantle to Sydney in 11 days, 17 hours and 8 minutes, breaking the record for a solo and unsupported bicycle crossing of the continent by over two days. Courtesy: Peter Heal.
The next year, Heal cycled alone around Australia (about 15,000 kilometres) in 48 days, 23 hours and 37 minutes, again lowering the record by two days. Heal carried muesli bars and snacks in a pouch under his left arm, and rode between 280 and 400 kilometres each day, staying in motels or just sleeping beside the road. A tracking device relayed his position via satellite to a webpage, and Heal attracted a dedicated following across the country and overseas.
Reima Miezitis, about 1953
Reima Miezitis leaving on a cycling trip to Bruny Island, Tasmania, wearing denim riding shorts she fashioned from her brother’s overalls, about 1953. Courtesy: Miezitis family.
Reima Miezitis and her brother restored this bicycle in 1945, adding Malvern Star wheels, painting the frame and replating the chrome finish on the handlebars. At the age of 15, Miezitis began riding it most days to Hobart Technical College from her home at Moonah, a journey of some seven kilometres. After she completed her studies, Miezitis took her bike on the train to work so she could ride regularly at lunchtime. From her early 20s, she rode it on day trips around Hobart, and took longer tours to Bruny Island to go riding for the weekend.
Simon Gerrans, 2013
Simon Gerrans, riding for Orica-GreenEdge, in the coveted general classification leader's yellow jersey after winning stage 3 of the Tour de France, 2013. Photo: George Seguin, Wikimedia Commons.
Launched in 2011, Orica-GreenEdge is the first Australian team to compete on the World Tour circuit, the highest level of professional cycling. At the 2013 Tour de France, the team achieved two stage wins and spent four days in the yellow jersey.
Other Australians to have worn yellow are: Phil Anderson (1981), Stuart O’Grady (1998 and 2001), Bradley McGee (2003), Robbie McEwen (2004), Cadel Evans (2008, 2010 and 2011) and Rohan Dennis (2015).
Sam Hill, 2009
Sam Hill racing at Mount Stromlo Mountain Bike Park, Canberra. Photo: Jason Stevens.
Western Australian Sam Hill is a professional downhill mountain biker renowned for his mastery of steep, rocky and technical courses. Hill first raced motocross and BMX, before taking up downhill when he was 12 years old. He was junior world champion in 2002 and 2003 and UCI (Union Cycliste Internationale) World Downhill Champion in 2006, 2007 and 2010.