If the name of this event didn’t immediately pique your interest, let’s just say there will be cider as well. The weekend warriors are parking their lattes (for a few hours) and considering capping things off with a crisp, hand-crafted brew instead. Typically considered the drink of choice for mountain bike riders, beer’s making inroads in, well, road.
Welcome to ‘Gears + Beers’ - an event made by beer lovers who just so happen to enjoy riding bikes – and who had a feeling they weren’t the only ones out there.
2014 was Gears + Beers' first and most successful year yet, but organiser Phil McIntosh is “expecting 2015 to be even bigger.”
The idea is (almost) as simple as the name suggests.
The day kicks off with your choice of ride through the surrounding region, finishing in Wagga Wagga’s centre at the Victorian Memorial Gardens for a craft beer and cider festival, complete with live bands and entertainment.
They’ve got some big name breweries on board too, calling on their mates at the nearby Thirsty Crow Brewing Co; Bridge Road Brewers form Beechworth; The Apple Thief Cider Company; Bright Brewery and BentSpoke Brewing Co. from Canberra to share with you their craft, their knowledge, and the delicious beverages that they work so hard to create.
And they haven’t picked these breweries out of a hat. The brewers all have strong connections to the bike, many of them riders themselves.
The whole idea for a beer + cider festival came about in the way we’re pretty sure most beer + cider festivals do: sitting around, frosty beverage in hand after a big ride. Phil was sitting at home with his kids who – being in their thirties now – all enjoy a good beer too, and they were trying to think of a way to create an event that celebrated everything they loved about their region. And what better way to do that than to enable people to travel through that region under their own power, before returning to an event to taste the local produce that they just saw growing alongside the trails themselves?
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“2014 worked really well,” said Phil, “And we really want to expand and grow it even more. So many people came in last year really chuffed about the level of support they had out on the road.”
The event is being run with the support of the Wollundry Rotary Club, and a huge number of volunteers who take care of registration and set up drink stations at the start line and along each route. All funds raised go back towards the running of the event itself; any extra money raised going towards local charities and international aid efforts.
“Around 75% of those funds go back into the local community – the remaining 25 will go to other areas, for example Schools in Nepal that were devastated by the Earthquake earlier this year. Last year we raised about $20,000, this year we are hoping to double that,” Phil told us. The first Gears + Beers managed to draw in people from around the country.
Phil said they had a lot of riders coming in from the major cities, “Melbourne, Sydney, Canberra; riders who don’t get the opportunity to ride on country roads very often. This event gives riders the opportunity to ride in the Riverina county side in October when the Canola is brilliant yellow and the wheat is at its most vivid green.”
If you are up for it, the newly added Dirty 130km ride will not only take you on some of the best roads, but through four dirt sections as well. You’ll enjoy a couple of decent descents and a creek crossing – complete with local duck population.
The whole event is timed so that the riders – whether you’re riding the 15, 30, 50, 105 or the Dirty 130km option – arrive at the festival at around the same time as those who are just coming for the food, beverages and entertainment.
“It creates a real buzz when all the riders show up,” he mentioned.
And because things get going nice and early, they don’t have any trouble with drinkers getting out of hand.
“We had not one single issue with drinking last year. Everyone arrives at the festival itself around midday, and things wrap up around 5.30 / 6pm. Those who want to keep drinking can head down to the pub to watch the footy if they want.”
Phil said that they’ve “tried to incorporate the local community as much as possible. The people who are participating in the ride and coming to the event afterwards aren’t there to just drink. They’re usually pretty hungry by the time they finish the ride. It’s all about quality over quantity; trying some really good craft beer, enjoying amazing local food and live entertainment with your friends and family.”
And to cap it all off, you’ll be riding alongside some of Australia’s top riders and athletes. Drew Ginn (Olympic Rower turned Cyclist), Tony D’Alberto (V8 Supercar driver) and Jesse Carlsson – just back from winning the 6,772km Trans Am bike race – are all participating thanks to Rapha Australia.
We couldn’t help but wonder if this new brand of beer drinking bike rider could also characterise themselves in the same, simple (yet elegant) way that we do as roadies – by comparing the way they ride to their beverage of choice... It turns out Phil is a bit of a Stout drinker. He said he thought that probably meant he was “pretty soft.”
Spilling my espresso down my shirt front, all I could think was that they clearly craft riders from a different cloth out in Wagga Wagga.
Gears + Bears kicks off on Sunday, 4th October 2015. Rides start at various times depending on their length, all aiming to arrive at the festival gates around midday.
If you’re just going for the festival itself, gates open at the Victoria Memorial Gardens at 11am, so you can be first in line at the snag stand…