Ed Birt recently returned from a 23 day bike ride across the width of Australia. As part of the Indian Pacific Wheel Race, Ed rode from the Indian Ocean in Perth to the Pacific Ocean in Sydney, raising money for The Disability Trust with every push of the pedal.
A few weeks back, adorned in fluoro from head to toe, Ed Birt cycled into Sydney, the Opera House and Harbour Bridge rising up to greet him.
He was met by his family wielding bottles of champagne and his parents, sporting bikes of their own, joined Ed as he rode down to the sand at Bondi Beach where he dipped the front wheel of his bike into the ocean, before downing a falafel roll.
The Indian Pacific Wheel Race
23 days earlier, Ed was dipping his back wheel in the Indian Ocean by the South Mole Lighthouse in Fremantle, Perth, alongside nine other cyclists.
They were about to embark on the Indian Pacific Wheel Race – an annual unsupported bike ride along sealed roads that began in 2017. The race usually sees dozens of riders from across the world cycling their way 5471km across the width of Australia, from west coast to east coast.
‘It was a personal goal for me, I just wanted to challenge myself. I was turning 50, I thought, I’m getting on a bit, if I’m gonna do it, I’ll do it now’, Ed said.
But the Indian Pacific Wheel Race isn’t competitive– each rider is on a solo journey, meaning the group becomes split up very quickly. When Ed finished up, there were still several riders dotted across the country, pedalling at their own pace.
‘I was averaging 240km a day during the event. I think my biggest day was about 320km and my rest day was about 160km’, Ed said.
From Perth, the ride cuts through WA, across the Nullabor and down to the Great Australian Bight, before riding into VIC, along the Great Ocean Road, up through the Victorian High Country into NSW, passing through Canberra, down Macquarie Pass to the Illawarra, and up through the Royal National Park to Sydney.
‘It’s actually a great speed to see the country…you travel at 20k an hour and you naturally just see everything in a detailed way.’
‘The Great Alpine Highway was one of my absolute highlights, I thought it was just stunning. It went up the back of Falls Creek for 1700 metres, and then bombed back down the hill, down to Mt Beauty, then back up the hill to Bright.’
A Community of Dot Watchers
The Indian Pacific Wheel Race is an unsupported ride, meaning it’s every cyclist for themselves – kinda.
Over the last few years a community of dedicated supporters and followers of the ride has been created. Known as the ‘Dot Watchers’ people around Australia track the rider’s movements online as they make their way across the country.
The Dot Watchers are so dedicated to the ride, they’re willing to offer up their homes for cyclists to stay the night, or even assist in finding spare bike parts on a public holiday.
‘I had a friendly Dot Watcher riding with me in Melbourne, Luke Jeffries. He was so keen on supporting me, on Easter Sunday he helped me get hold of another gear cable which we fitted by the side of the road before I climbed up into the Yarra Ranges. Without him, I’d probably still be back in Canberra’, Ed chuckled.
An Advocate For Better Bikeways
But this ride was more than just a personal challenge for Ed. He’s a huge advocate for cycling as a means of transportation and believes everyone needs to embrace it more, for their own health and the health of the planet.
‘I’m really passionate about cycling. I think it’s one of those things that’s really important for the future of the human race in terms of sustainable transportation.’
But to reach the cycling future Ed envisions, there’s a huge mental and infrastructure shake up that needs to occur.
‘The infrastructure is not adequate to the needs of the population and any cyclist will tell you, if there’s an option, they’ll ride on the path or cycleway. But often those paths are not the most direct route.’
‘We all would like to be catered for, whether you’re a truck driver, or a car driver, a cyclist or a pedestrian. Sometimes I can understand people getting annoyed at cyclists cause they get in the way, but they don’t want to be in the way.’
Bike Riding is For Everyone
Ed’s passionate about getting all people, no matter their abilities, onto a bike in some form or another.
‘The focus for my fundraising has been about under-represented groups, particularly people with disability having access to cycling and being able to get from A to B and here, there and everywhere’, Ed said.
Ed works for The Disability Trust in Wollongong, and leading up to the ride, started raising funds for the trust’s new CycleAbility program, which endeavours to help people with disabilities gain access to bikes specialised to their needs.
‘There’s a group called Freedom Wheels who do cool trikes, they also have some recumbent bicycles for people with spinal injuries that have hand-operated pedals and things like that’, Ed said.
With the money raised for the CycleAbility program, Ed and The Disability Trust will be purchasing a bunch of bikes purpose-built for people with differing abilities.
‘They may not be entirely suited to every individual, but at least they can give it a go and if it’s something that works for them, they can get an occupational therapist to tailor something more specific to their needs’, said Ed.
So far Ed’s raised over $10,000 for the CycleAbility program.
There’s still time to make a donation and help someone take their first biking adventure.
Photos thanks to Ed Birt