International Women's Day is a great opportunity to look back at the incredible work of women cyclists over the years. In the 1930s there were more than a few record breaking women who were household names, sadly in later decades their achievements have been largely forgotten, and women's cycling as a whole often struggles to get proper recognition and respect.
Below are just some of the amazing women road record riders Australia has seen.
The tiny 45kg Billie Samuels, who set the first Melbourne-Sydney women's record in 1934, and just a few months later broke the Sydney-Melbourne record too. Her rides inspired a generation of women cyclists.
Valda Unthank's extraordinary 1938 Adelaide-Melbourne ride not only broke the women's record by a mind-boggling 37 hours 56 minutes, she also broke the men's record by over 13 hours!
Joyce Barry was famous across the country for her record rides. On her 1938 Brisbane-Rockhampton ride she broke the existing men's record by 23 hours!
In the 1960s Margaret Mclachlan was refused a racing licence by the NSW cycling union, so turned her hand to record rides in protest. Her Sydney-Newcastle time of 6hr14m30s, set in 1968, still stands as the record to this day.
80 years ago today, at 7:10am both the mail train and the famous Les Cecil left the Kingaroy station bound for Brisbane.
Cecil was a seasoned veteran, holder of many records such as Melbourne-Sydney and Brisbane-Lismore, but ahead of him lay 150 miles (241km) of rough, hilly dirt roads, slick from the rain that fell almost all day. In spite of the slippery surface, he kept the pace up, and coming down the Blackbutt range hit 48 miles per hour (over 72kmh!)
He rode through 2 severe storms, and crossed more than half a dozen flooded creeks, but after 8 hours, 45 minutes he finally reached Brisbane at 3:55pm.
The train was not to arrive until more than 2 hours later, at 6pm!
It was an extraordinary achievement, widely publicised, and 80 years later his record still stands, along with a dozen others he set during the golden age of road records.
At 5:35 on the morning of Saturday the 24th of November, Hervey Bay rider Troy Geltch set off from the Maryborough Post Office, with Bundaberg his target. There was no known men's record for the journey, and the fastest women's time of 6hr30m was set by Joyce Barry on her 1938 Brisbane-Rockhampton record ride.
Geltch said he had a westerly crosswind for the trip, but luckily avoided a later northerly change. He wasn't unduly hindered by the conditions, as he recorded a stunning 37kmh average for the 112km journey, finishing with a remarkable time of 3:02:51, almost 3 and a half hours ahead of Barry's record!
Geltch says he's planning to tackle other records, and to encourage more people to take up the challenge.
Kin Kin record breaker Lachlan Davis left the Brisbane GPO at 4:30 on the morning of Saturday the 10th of November, aiming to break Kevin Cassidy's 1948 Brisbane-Esk record, and lower the Brisbane-Toogoolawah, Ipswich-Esk, and Ipswich-Toogoolawah records.
Lachlan was aiming to take 2.5 minutes off the Brisbane-Esk record, and to reduce his own Brisbane-Toogoolawah record from 5:08:28 to 4:45:00, but with mild temperatures and a light tailwind he reached Esk nearly 15 minutes ahead of the record with a time of 3:41:13. He finished the ride at the Toogoolawah Post Office in 4:19:47, nearly 50 minutes faster than his previous time.
Ipswich-Esk fell by nearly 17 minutes to 2:10:33, and Ipswich-Toogoolawah by nearly 40 minutes to 2:48:07.
On October 30th 1938, Gympie rider Mervyn Lister broke the Gympie-Brisbane record with a time of 9:05:45. 2 days short of 80 years later, Kin Kin rider Lachlan Davis took more than 1hr 43m off the record, with a time of 7:22:27 for the 187km journey.
It was the first attempt on the record since another Kin Kin rider, Gilbert McAndrew, was forced to abandon at Landsborough with cramps in 1939.
Davis started from the old Gympie Post Office building at 1:10am and enjoyed still air and mild temperatures throughout. He established a new record of 3:47:00 from Gympie-Landsborough, and said he would have taken around 15 minutes off the 1939 Landsborough-Brisbane record if not for a wrong turn in Bald Hills that cost 34 minutes. He now holds 14 records and will attempt to add Brisbane-Esk to that tally on November 10th.
On Sunday September 30th, Kin Kin rider Lachlan Davis rode from Rockhampton to Yeppoon and back, attempting to better Hugh Doran's record of 2hr30m6s set on March 20th 1938.
At Yeppoon Lachlan was well behind schedule, struggling with the numerous small climbs and an unfavourable crosswind. Pushing hard on the return clawed back time, and a final effort along Moores Creek Road saw him reach the Old Rockhampton Post Office in 2hr29m7s, just 59 seconds ahead of the record!
As with his Gladstone-Rockhampton record set at the start of September, Lachlan expects the strong local riders to soon eclipse his time, and says he is looking forward to seeing their efforts.
Of all the hard-as-nails record breakers of the 20s and 30s, one stands head and shoulders above the rest, Sir Hubert Opperman, or as he was known the world over "Oppy".
Born in Victoria in 1904, his introduction to bicycles was as a delivery boy for the Postmaster General, and his first race win was at the age of 17. From there the only way was up, and his tally of race wins and records is simply staggering.
He took more than 5 whole days off the Perth-Sydney record, rode over 1,000kms from Brisbane to Sydney in 47h10m without any sleep, won the 1,166km Paris-Brest-Paris race in 49h21m, broke the 24hr motorpaced record with 1,384km (a record that still stands today, 86 years on!), and set dozens more records all across Australia and in the United Kingdom.
Oppy was a superstar all over the world, adored by fans who would line the streets in the middle of the night just to see him pass by. On one record ride, as he passed through Melbourne parliament was suspended so the dignitaries could go out and greet him.
After the 2nd World War Oppy began a long and extremely distinguished career as a politician, and while his racing days were behind him, he remained a cyclist to the end. He died a month before his 92nd birthday, while on his exercise bike.
Space precludes us from even scratching the surface of Oppy's spectacular achievements here, for those wanting to know more there are numerous books about him, including his autobiography.
On Sunday the 16th of September, Kin Kin rider Lachlan Davis set off from the Brisbane GPO for an attempt on the Brisbane-Toogoolawah record set by the legendary Les Cecil in 1926. With a Northwesterly headwind blowing (as Cecil had also encountered!) and a wrong turn in the western suburbs of Brisbane it was a tough ride, and Lachlan fell short of the 1948 Brisbane-Esk record by 13:59 (record time 3hr56m).
Lachlan reached the Toogoolawah Post Office in 5hr8m28s to break the record by 16m32s, and established new records for Ipswich-Esk (2hr27m24s) and Ipswich-Toogoolawah (3hr26m). His first stop after the ride was the Toogoolawah History Museum, to view the bike that Les Cecil rode from Cairns to Canberra as part of the Commonwealth Jubilee celebrations in 1951. He is already planning to make another attempt on the Brisbane-Esk record, and to further lower the Brisbane-Toogoolawah time.