We spoke to the President of Geelong MTB Club Alan Flaherty about how the club has grown from 100 to over 350 members, their famous No Frills Friday night race and the infamous You Yangs Yowie!
Alan was a long time road cyclist racing for Footscray Cycling Club completing events like the arduous Melbourne to Warrnambool, before he made the switch to mountain biking. When Alan got involved in the club there were about 35 people in attendance at one of the first No Frills Friday night races. That figure has now reached a core group of 80 (and regularly tops 100) that race all year round. This is in large part due to the direction the club decided to take years ago, asking the members what they wanted and giving it to them.
Hi Alan, tell us a little bit about the club and how you got involved?
I first went mountain biking at the request of my son who was 12 at the time. He got me out on the mountain bike and I've been on it ever since.
When I started there were very few racing options but thanks to Steve Clausman, (who was then President of the club) the whole direction of the club changed. Everything was made user friendly for members and a lot more races were scheduled on the smaller scale. This resulted in races almost every weekend, which enabled people to get more involved and ride more frequently. That in turn led to more riders and more demand for races. The two worked together to increase the demand to the point where we now run races all year round with huge numbers in attendance.
Our membership base when I started eight years ago was around the 120 mark, now we have approximately 360 members.
Can you take us through some of the special programs run by the club?
About four years ago we decided to start Dirt Squirts, a junior program for boys and girls between three and 12 years of age who love to ride their bike. We were getting a lot of members with kids who wanted to ride, so we thought we needed to develop a junior program to keep these kids entertained and create an atmosphere that was great for the whole family.
Parents now bring their kids down and the whole family gets involved. The program has become so popular we now have to take bookings. The most recent Dirt Squirts ride had 48 kids tearing around on their bikes. It's great for the kids, they can put a number on, learn new skills and have a ball instead of sitting on their hands while their parents ride around. The program is run by Craig Finlow along with the help of other parents, and it just keeps getting bigger every year.
Another program is Young Guns which was born from Dirt Squirts after we identified a need for a level of progression for the kids. It allows for anyone between 13 and 17 years of age to race in their own category and meet other juniors their own age. We received a State Grant which was used to purchase head lights for the juniors to use so they didn't have to buy their own.
We also used some of that funding to run a skills program for the juniors. That involved hiring a mountain bike coach, going up to Bright for the weekend and having a one day skills course followed by a race on the Sunday.
The kids at this age love to give their bikes and the course a good thrashing. We have kids coming from all over the state to get involved in the program. We have even had some Young Guns go over and race in Europe.
Another program that keeps growing is Dirt Girls. It was started by Kirra Dyer and Lizz after we had a lot of interest from girls who wanted to ride, meet new people and learn mountain bike skills.
Where does the club ride and race?
We are kind of blessed being on this side of Melbourne, there are so many tracks that aren't that hairy or scary and are easily accessible.
There are a lot of social rides down at Forrest that the members organise themselves. The rides are posted on Facebook and open to everyone. There's a crew of young guys that head out to Plenty Gorge and we have training and racing weekends at Mt. Buller.
Friday night is at te You Yangs and the races are so popular we have had to add extra grades. All of the racing is graded so it's always close and fair. It's very cheap to enter and any money that we do raise goes straight back into the tracks. Riders also get a timing chip which means they get their results straight away and there's always a camera person at the races which leads to some great banter after the race.
We also have a regular social ride at the You Yangs every Friday night that we aren't racing (it's for everyone, even the 12kph plodders!)
How can people get started with Geelong MTB Club?
The best place to start is our Friday night rides at the You Yangs. Even if you have never ridden a mountain bike people should come out for a laugh and be introduced to like-minded people who can pass on knowledge. Last summer we picked up 20 new people who had never been on a mountain bike before.
If people did want to take the next step and race, Mountain Bike Australia (MTBA) has an eight week trial membership that is 100% free!
What kind of racing is on offer?
No Frills Fridays is our biggest event. It started eight years ago after Saturday events started to drop off. The Friday night events are perfect - finish work, race at 7pm, done by 8pm, home by 9pm.
As well as the shorter Friday night races there are three-hour gazebo events for the more serious riders or those who want a challenge. The first time we put one on we thought if we get 75 people we'll be happy... 125 people turned up! We thought, 'Geez this is ok' and it continued to build from there. We've had 200 people turn up to some races. It's crazy!
The race only costs $30 to enter which includes access to eskies full of drinks plus a beer and a chat at the end of it... Maybe that's why people keep coming back!?
Our big annual event is the 'You Yangs Yowie' that is raced along the full circuit of the You Yangs. There are three distance options (99km, 66km or 33km) plus a 15km option for Dirt Squirts.
Can you give us a final word on the club?
We really run this club for the members. Whatever the members want, that's what we give them and as a result people are coming in their droves.