Australia's first bikes
The first bicycles arrived in the colonies in the 1860s and Australians were quick to embrace this new technology. By the late 1890s the 'safety' bicycle offered people a cheaper and more comfortable ride and the cycling craze had taken hold. Riding schools and touring clubs formed and cycle racing became a big business.
Freewheeling tracks the arrival of velocipedes, penny-farthings and the revolutionary safety bicycle. It also features the story of Harry Clarke's passion for his vintage penny-farthing, 'Black Bess'.
Women on wheels
Women have been captivated by cycling since bicycles arrived in Australia. The bike was a catalyst for emancipation as women enjoyed new independence and freedom. Today, Australian women continue to take up cycling in increasing numbers, although professionals receive a disproportionately small share of funding.
Freewheeling features the stories of female riders including Marion Sutherland, who ran errands and rode for pleasure on a bike designed by her husband in the early 1900s, and Olympic sprint champion Anna Meares.
My first bike
Bicycles designed for children were developed soon after the invention of the safety bicycle in the 1880s, but for many decades they were not mass-produced in Australia. Children rode tricycles and adult bikes until the 1950s, when bicycles came to be seen more as a child’s toy or a way for young people to get around.
An early model Stackhat and a bike ridden to school by a mother and daughter over two generations feature in Freewheeling. The exhibition also features first bike stories from across the country.
On the world stage
In the decades after the bicycle arrived in Australia, cycling competitions became big business. Talented riders abandoned their amateur status to vie for cash prizes in major competitions in Australia and overseas. Cycling's popularity declined in the mid-20th century, but underwent a major resurgence from the 1980s, with government funding for high-performance programs.
Freewheeling explores the stories of riders, including Ken Ross who competed in 6-day races in Australia and Europe from 1917, Tour de France competitors Hubert Opperman and Cadel Evans, and Paralympic champions Sue Powell and Michael Milton.
Getting out of town to explore the bush has always been part of cycling in Australia. Early riders tackled many different surfaces and as the numbers of cars increased from the 1950s, cyclists became more determined to go 'off-road'. Mountain bikes reached Australia in the early 1980s and quickly became popular with a new generation of cyclists. Today, mountain bikes account for most new bicycle sales.
Freewheeling includes a mountain bike ridden to victory by Cadel Evans, who was a dominant force in cross-country mountain biking before he began professional road racing.
The first cycle races in Australia were novelty events at athletics carnivals. By the 1880s newly formed cycling clubs were organising meets and by the early 20th century, competitive cycling clubs with track and road racing programs, had formed across the country. Earlier divisions between amateur and professional riders have eroded over time and there are now about 200 cycling clubs in Australia, with nearly 50,000 members.
Freewheeling features a 1924 club shield from the Rainbow Cycling Club in Melbourne, and the stories of successful amateur riders Reg Goodwin and Jim Coyle.
Traversing the continent
Since the 1870s, generations of bicycle-riding explorers, adventurers and athletes have tested their wills, bodies and machines against the vast distances of the Australian continent. Some have pushed themselves to the limit for glory, some to earn sponsorship dollars, and others simply because they wanted to get from one place to another.
Freewheeling tells the story of Hubert Opperman, one of Australia's most successful long-distance cyclists, and an international cycling celebrity after his performance in the 1928 Tour de France. The exhibition also profiles contemporary record breakers Peter Heal and Kate Leeming.
Rambling and randonneuring
As the number of bicycles increased during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Australians took up touring, rambling from town to town on leisurely longer rides. Cycle touring declined in popularity after the Second World War, as many people started travelling in cars.
By the 1980s, however, long-distance recreational rides made a comeback through mass participation events and randonneuring, a non-competitive sport in which cyclists aim to complete a set course within a specified time limit.
Freewheeling features riders including Reima Miezitis, who toured around Tasmania on her bike in the 1950s and 1960s, and randonneur Greg Cunningham, who has covered thousands of kilometres on his bike in Australia and overseas since the 1990s.