Cycling in Sydney Australia
On Saturday night, June 19, I had the privilege and pleasure of again meeting one of Australia's greatest cycling athletes. A more modest, understated and self-effacing human being, and a more unlikely extreme athlete, it would be hard to imagine. Peter Heal, a dinkum Aussie in his early 50s and commonly known to his mates as “Poit”, had just completed a superhuman feat of endurance by cycling, alone and unsupported, around the coast of mainland Australia – from Sydney to Sydney – in a record time. He eschewed virtually any and all publicity before and during his ride. (Stopping for interviews would have slowed him down!)
Minutes into Sunday, May 2, 2010, Poit's Velokraft recumbent's brilliant tail lights had disappeared, northbound, from the sight of viewers on Observatory Hill over the crest of the Sydney Harbour Bridge cycleway. Only minutes before midnight on June 19 his blindingly bright dynamo headlights again illuminated Observatory Hill as he returned from the south, his lap complete.
He'd ridden 14,913km in 48 days, 23 hours and 19 minutes, averaging a fraction over 304km per day without a rest day. This phenomenal effort reduced the already impressive record of a Dane, Erik Straarup, by just over two days, while Poit actually rode 302km further than Erik did.
Poit had pedalled almost non-stop from 0400 that final Saturday, leaving Narooma on the NSW south coast, to reach Sydney, a nearly 20-hour leg. Incredible!
Poit tired, tanned, triumphant, having ticked off another record ride
An Audax mate of mine, Mal Rogers, and I met Poit and a small group of his friends and family members, when he arrived close on midnight followed by a fellow recumbenteer who had pointed the way from Sutherland. He stopped at the rotunda overlooking the SHB. The staccato click of camera shutters mingled with a bang as Poit popped the cork of the traditional champagne.
Mal Rogers presents the traditional post-achievement beverage to Poit
Hundreds of other supporters, in Australia and overseas, had been following Poit around the continent in spirit via the internet. He carried a “SPOT” GPS tracking device which, linked to Google Streetview, enabled those left behind to see on their computer monitors at work or at home something of what Poit was seeing as he relentlessly pedalled the continental margin. It was often not a pretty sight; endless expanses of flat, featureless scrub, empty rural landscapes and narrow, broken-edged carriageways dominated. This is clearly not the sort of trip to undertake if sight-seeing is a priority. Asked what was the best scenery on the route, the answer was succinct: “Sydney.” And the reference was only to the finish line.
I asked Poit how he had trained for the trip and he didn't really have an answer – he'd done a few Audax 300s and, of course, his trans-Australia effort last July was a dress rehearsal. How do you train for something so extreme, anyway?
Poit, who had ridden all day and a lot of each night while still managing up to eight hours sleep daily, said he had seen the ocean “about four times”. He had heard it more frequently but did not bother to take the side roads to get a proper view, even at the spectacular Nullarbor cliffs.
Mechanical problems on Poit's Polish-built recumbent had been remarkably few. A notchy headset caused by the rough northern Australian roads, but replaced only when he reached Victoria, and some broken spokes in his front wheel which necessitated a quick rebuild, seemed to be the worst. Punctures troubled him only on the east coast, he said. The machine features a carbon fibre frame, ultra low gears for climbing, a streamlined and capacious “tailbox” luggage compartment behind the seat and is festooned with powerful LED lights and fluorescent/reflective tape for enhanced night-time road presence. (Interestingly, the fluorescent part of the tape had faded from yellow to white during the seven week trip.) Poit estimated the total loaded weight of his vehicle at 20kg, not bad considering he was carrying camping equipment.
Poit was remarkably lucid for one who had ridden so far in hilly terrain that day. He seemed, understandably, tired with the strain of the journey etched on his face, tanned on face and fingers – his only exposed skin – and almost painfully thin despite eating the equivalent of about six meals a day for seven weeks. Still, he spent an hour with us, answering endless questions and winding down before flopping into the back of a car while the recumbent was carefully loaded in another vehicle.
Poit poses with his faithful steed in front of the Sydney Harbour Bridge (unfortunately camera flash not quite strong enough to illuminate the latter!)
I felt a bit feeble having ridden a mere 10km to meet him before another 10 to get home and the irony was not lost on Poit, either. It was a relief for me to get to bed at 0130. I can't imagine the relief he would be feeling! I had asked him what he would do when he woke up this morning. He said his first reaction would probably be panic that he had overslept and feeling that he should get on the bike and keep pedalling.
A lot of people are now asking what he will do next. I doubt he will want to contemplate anything like this again... at least for a few days yet! There is, though, an interesting record which has stood for over 70 years: the world one-year cycling record set in 1939 by Englishman, Tommy Godwin – 120,805km, an average 331km a day for