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Ernie Old (1874–1962) was a young man when he caught the cycling craze and started competing in races in rural Victoria in about 1900.

A black and white photo of an older man sitting on a bike with a crowd behind him.
Ernie Old, aged 73, at the Melbourne showgrounds in 1947, finishing a 4000-kilometre ride to Brisbane and back. National Archives of Australia: A1200, L38704

Old became a celebrity in his 70s when he challenged himself to ride from Melbourne to every state capital — a feat he accomplished before his 76th birthday. For the next 10 years he continued to crisscross the continent, making his last marathon ride from Melbourne to Bendigo in 1960, aged 86.

Greeted as a star by cheering crowds, Ernie Old proved that travelling the vast spaces of Australia by bike was possible and enjoyable at any age.

Malvern Star bicycle
Ernie Old’s Malvern Star bicycle, now part of the National Historical Collection. National Museum of Australia

Ernie Old's personal challenge

Blue and white poster with a central image of a man on a bike. - click to view larger image
Malvern Star and Ernie Old souvenir poster, signed by Old and donated to the National Museum by his granddaughter, Valerie Grant

The Malvern Star company presented this 4 Star 'Sid Patterson' road racer to Ernie Old in about 1956.

Old’s family donated the bike to the Canberra Bicycle Museum in 1996 and, after its closure, the bike was given to the National Museum of Australia.

Cycling connections

Supported in his marathon rides by Bruce Small's Malvern Star company, Old joined an elite group who championed cycling in Australia, as a sport, a healthy lifestyle and a sustainable form of transport.

He forged friendships with famous cyclists Jack Fahey, Sid Patterson and Sir Hubert ‘Oppy’ Opperman.

In 1950, when Old was 75, he published his autobiography, By Bread Alone. At the time he was said to be ‘in perfect health, (and) able to cycle an average of 100 miles a day with the greatest of ease’.

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