84 years young on the Great Victorian Bike Ride

Octogenarian Shirley Boyle will be the oldest rider in the Great Victorian Bike Ride this weekend. Photo: Simon O’Dwyer

Here’s my story on inspiring bike rider, Shirley Boyle. It was published last Saturday in The Age so Shirley would be well on her way on her 10-day 520-kilometre ride by now. Hope I am half as fit as Shirley when I reach that age…

84 years young on the Great Victorian Bike Ride

November 27, 2014

Peter Barrett

She’s 84, a retired nurse and happens to be the oldest participant in this weekend’s RACV Great Victorian Bike Ride. Starting in Albury, Shirley Boyle will join nearly 3000 other cyclists riding to Lilydale via Mansfield.

The fun (weather permitting) 520-kilometre journey through pristine countryside takes 10 days (including one rest day). It will be the octogenarian’s 12th year on the ride.

To ensure her fitness is up to scratch Mrs Boyle starts training for the event every spring.

“I find I must go out and ride as often as I can,” says Mrs Boyle, who lives with her 93-year-old husband David on their rural property in Lake Goldsmith, 50-kilometres west of Ballarat. “The weather’s been against me [this year] but I do have an exercise bike and I like to put in about an hour-and-a-half to two hours a day on that, just to keep myself going.”

The self-described “very fit” gardener took up cycling as a hobby late in life after a long and successful career in nursing. “We ended up with two old dogs, two old horses and two old humans,” she says of her retirement.

When the last horse passed away she considered replacing it but, daunted by the commitment required, she bought a bike instead. “One day I happened to hear on the radio about Bicycle Victoria and the rest is history.”

However, Mrs Boyle’s two-wheeled enthusiasm hasn’t rubbed off on her husband , who prefers toiling in his workshop making (award-winning) quarter-scale antique farm machinery models.

“I never know what’s coming into the house,” Mrs Boyle says of her husband’s intricate miniature antique windmills, stump jump ploughs and chaff cutters.

“No, my David stays home,” she says of her yearly bicycle odyssey. “I take him on a tour of the deep freezer and the kitchen and if he starves that’s his fault!”

At home Mrs Boyle loves getting out in nature and rides about 10-kilometres a day around the local byways (“road inspecting,” David calls it).

Used to pulling over to let gravel, grain and hay trucks pass she is more concerned about bike traffic when it comes to accidents. She’s never had a “bad spill,” although one year she came close.

“I could hear these young girls coming up behind me – chatter, chatter, giggle, giggle – and next thing I know my rear wheel was hit. I stayed on but, oh, gosh, it was scary.”

This year there will be 325 volunteers and 150 support staff to help riders including Mrs Boyle, who takes advantage of the “sleep easy” option, which costs extra but means someone else puts up her tent each night and takes it down again.

So, what goes through her mind on those long rides? On a particularly hot ride last year along the Loddon River in central Victoria she came up with this rhyming verse: “As I rode beside the Loddon/ I thought I really oughtta/ go down to the river bank and put my bum into the water.”

Needless to say, her poetry (and company) is renowned on tour.

The RACV Great Victorian Bike Ride starts in Albury on November 29 and finishes in Lilydale on December 7. For details see bicyclenetwork.com.au and click on “events”.

Read the story here.