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The Melbourne Bicycle Touring Club: cycling since 1973

Alia Parker's picture
The Melbourne Bicycle Touring Club cycling in South Gippsland. Cycle Traveller

The average age of club members may be a little older these days, but the wheels continue to spin at the Melbourne Bicycle Touring Club just as they have for the past 41 years.

From day rides to multi-day adventures, the MBTC has been bringing cyclists together since 1973, although the club has changed significantly from its early incarnation as an outdoors club for young singles, says MBTC president Elizabeth Ennis.

“When they originally started they were doing bushwalking and orienteering and canoeing and all sorts of things and I believe what happened was a lot of them – I think because they were fairly young and didn't have a lot of money – they were riding bikes to get to a lot of the events and eventually they decided that the riding was more interesting and became the Melbourne Bicycle Touring Club,” says Elizabeth.

People such as Keith Warburton, Ron Shephard, Margaret Lawrence and Paul and Charlie Farren – well known for their remarkable vintage bike collection – were among the club's early members and were integral to its development.

Interestingly, Elizabeth says a lot of couples actually formed through the club, although these days the MBTC, which has around 200 members, is far from a group for singles and is made up mostly of those in their 40s to 60s, with a few younger and older members as well.

Elizabeth, who is on her second rotation as club president, joined the MBTC back in 1987 and loves the social aspect of the club, which used to meet every Thursday night.

The Melbourne Bicycle Touring Club tour along the Victorian coast. Cycle Traveller“When Fawlty Towers was first broadcast it was broadcast on a Thursday night and on its first night we had virtually no one turn up to the meeting so the following week they brought the TV in so that everyone could come in and watch Fawlty Towers and we could have the meeting afterwards,” she says laughing.

“It was mainly a social meeting with some planning. We still have meetings but we have them twice a month now instead of every week so we meet on the first and third Thursday of the month at the Royal Historic Society building.”

The club runs day rides every week and longer self-supported trips on long weekends and holidays, including three coming up over Easter. With ANZAC Day falling so close to Easter this year, the club has been able to put on a 10-day ride around the Upper Murray River and the Snowy Mountains.

From day trips near Melbourne – such as the 60km loop out along the Eastern Freeway then onto the Mullum Mullum Creek Trail and the Yarra Trail back into town – or longer trips to Flinders Island, Kangaroo Island, the High Plains, the Murray area and the Snowy Mountains, the rail trails around Mansfield and Bright or out towards Portland, there are many great rides to choose from.

“Victoria is so beautiful for riding in. There are a lot of beautiful places to go,” says Elizabeth, recalling a solo reconnaissance trip she did out near Yea.

“It had been one of those damp mornings and the drizzle had cleared and as I got over the Divide, the sun started to come through. It was one of those brilliant mornings in Spring, the ground was all wet, the earth was smelling fantastic, the grass was bright green and I was on this little road off the main highway and it was quite beautiful,” she says.

“This is why I ride my bike, I thought to myself.”

Elizabeth says the rides – which are suited to hybrid and touring bikes – generally attract around 6-12 people for the day trips and around a dozen on the multi-day rides.

The Melbourne Bicycle Touring Club heads off road. Cycle Traveller“I think still, predominantly, the most popular rides tend to be around the 60-70km mark in the country,” she says.

However, bicycle rides around Melbourne have increased in popularity in recent years due to the wonderful bike paths and trails that have sprung up.

“When I first started, Melbourne didn't have anywhere near the bike lanes and cycle path infrastructure that it has now. So we do have more rides that use that great infrastructure as well,” she says.

The club also runs the odd mountain bike ride when enough members are interested.

“Because we're run by volunteers, it really depends on who in our membership is feeling enthusiastic or can have their arms twisted to put on a ride,” she says.

Despite the ageing demographic, Elizabeth says the MBTC would love more young people to get involved.

“I think younger people tend to organise things and meet-up through Facebook and things like that, rather than joining clubs so much.”

The club does keep pace with the times, however, with a Facebook page and rides calendar on its website.

It is also a very affordable form of family entertainment, with kids welcome. Membership starts at $55 a year per adult, or $90 for a family of up to two adults and two children. Fees include all rides.

Elizabeth says the club predominantly gets its money from the MAD Ride fundraiser each year – Australia's longest running social bike ride – with funds helping to subsidise trips for members.

For more information, or to join, visit the MTBC's website. Elizabeth says all are welcome to come out and try a ride or pop into the fortnightly meetings.

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