World and Paralympic champion Sue Powell on how to get into racing

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Are you keen to try bunch riding on the road?
Seen some groups riding around Canberra and wondering how to get involved?
Maybe you have a nice road bike you’d like to use more?
Perhaps you’re already riding Cotter-Uriarra or Lake George but think you’re not fast enough to join a bunch?
Maybe you’d like to try racing but not on the road?

Canberra has a strong tradition of road cycling and there are literally hundreds of people going out on regular bunch rides, especially early on weekday mornings and weekends. You will have seen them and their bikes at cafes virtually everywhere taking part in the cyclist’s ritual – post-ride coffee.

But there are also seasonal bike races for those who like to ride on the hard stuff. Believe me, there’s a competition for every type of cyclist at every level and they’re growing in popularity all the time.

Sometimes it’s hard to know where to start. For me it was a chance encounter with some friendly cyclists from the Vikings Cycling Club. They saw me riding alone and invited me to join the club’s Novice Training Program. From there I started doing short fun races on the criterion track at Stromlo Forest Park. Soon after I did my first ‘real race’ and now look at me. I’m a world champion and Paralympic gold medallist. I still can’t believe it!

So, where to start and what to do?  Here are some tips to get you going:

Join a novice program

Most of the cycling clubs in Canberra run a beginner’s road program of some description. It’s so much fun and you’ll learn (among other things) how to ride in a bunch, change a tyre, ride with one hand, stay safe and use hand signals. You’ll also make many new friends and probably get a lot fitter. You’ll be surprised how much further and faster you can ride in a bunch.

Find a bunch that’s right for you

The novice program probably includes club membership which will give you access to other organised rides. Most clubs have a slow, a medium and a fast ride each weekend and sometimes even throughout the week. Find the group that’s right for you and keep riding. There are even social riding bunches you can join but I find the club ones are the best as they’re ranked and often have a leader.

Enter a race

The first step is probably the summer Criterion Series out at Stromlo Forest Park. It’s a fantastic off-road facility and the popular summer races have at least six grades so you’re sure to find one that suits your skills and pace. It’s so much fun working out race strategies and you’ll get a real buzz when you get your first placing.

Try a longer race

Once you’ve got your racing legs at the crits, think about entering a longer club-run road race of 50-100km. Most of the clubs run these types of races fairly regularly over spring and summer complete with course marshals so you don’t get lost. They choose quiet roads and warn motorists so it’s pretty safe. You could also enter one of Pedal Power’s events, like the legendary Fitz’s Challenge in October. It’s not a race so there are no winners but, over that distance (165km+) we’re just cycling against ourselves anyway, right?

Something faster

Do you have a hankering for speed? You could give track cycling a go. The revamped velodrome at Narrabundah with its banked corners (so much fun) and its smooth track is a great place for cycling fast.

The atmosphere and challenge of road bunch riding and bike racing is truly addictive at any level. As you improve and your confidence grows there are plenty of options further afield at friendly country races on the road and on the track.

Interested? Contact your local cycling club and book yourself into a novice program and give it a go. Here are some links to get you started: Vikings Cycling Club ACTCanberra Cycling ClubANU Cycling Club and ACT Veterans Cycling Club.

Sue Powell first started racing in 2007 at the age of 40. She lost 50% of the function in her right leg thanks to a spinal injury (not from cycling) which propelled her from club level racing to representing Australia in para-cycling. She has since won five World Championship titles, who knows how many Australian titles and a gold and silver medal at the 2012 London Paralympic Games. In April 2014 she slashed eight seconds off her 3km pursuit world record to take gold at the Para-cycling World Track Championships in Mexico. Sue regularly commutes to work and competes in local club races, state and national masters events and enjoys a leisurely coffee shop ride with friends. She’s aiming for Rio in 2016 where she will compete against competitors half her age! By the way, this amazing athlete needs sponsors! You can email her at

Photo: Sue Powell racing in Mexico with her coach, Ben Cook.


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