Lifetime Membership Awarded: Alan Walker

Thomas Price - 13/02/2020

Length of Active Membership

Alan Walker is a co-founding member of Audax Australia and has been a continuous active member of Audax Australia., Alan’s legacy membership number is 1. 

Administrative Positions Held

Alan served as the first Secretary of Audax Australia and served as a general jack of all Audax roles in the initial years, he drove publicity with articles in cycling magazines, e.g. “National Cycling” and built up membership to over a few dozen members in the first year. Alan organised most Victorian rides in the early years. Alan also was the first newsletter editor for the club. 

History of Active Riding

Alan has been riding Audax since the beginning and being somewhat humble has never applied for an award, he always stated that the enjoyment of riding is rewarding enough. 

Alan has completed the following major riding achievements 

  • 1984 Geelong-Mildura-Geelong 1000 (Australia’s first 1000 brevet ride)
  • 1992 Ballarat-Millicent-Ballarat 1200
  • 2003 Paris-Brest-Paris 
  • 2014 Tour de Tasmania 1200 
  • 2015 Paris-Brest-Paris 
  • 2016 Japan Hokkaido 1200 
  • 2018 Perth-Albany-Perth 1200 
  • 2019 The Geelong Flyer 1000 (35 Years since Alan’s last 1000 brevet) 
  • Numerous BRM rides in Australia and overseas 
  • Oppy Team Captain and Oppy Team member 

Participation as a Ride Volunteer

Alan has volunteered on several key events over the years and recently he volunteered on the 2016 Great Southern Randonnee and the 2017 Sydney Melbourne. Alan has also helped on club social nights and the Audax Alpine Classic. 

Alan has a wealth of knowledge on ride organising and routes and Alan has always offered to mentor would be Ride Organisers providing advice and answering questions. 

History of Organising rides

Alan has been a key resource for Audax Victoria providing numerous rides over the years. Some of Alan’s signature events have been – 

  • Yearly series of Super Randonneur rides running out of Bendigo 
  • The Bendigo 1000 (Late 80’s and Early 90’s) 
  • Numerous BRM Calendar rides over the years 

Other Areas of Service to Audax Australia. Alan has made himself available to members by providing his professional knowledge via his support of the club throughout his membership. Alan always stove to innovate and evolve Audax cycling and he introduced the idea of using shops as controls instead of relying on members. This seems obvious now but, in the early days, ride organisers felt obliged to find volunteers to run and cater for controls. 

Alan also proposed “Checkpoint” as the name of the club magazine. Alan has always been an avid contributor to Audax newsletters and Checkpoint magazine and in more recent years, social media. 

When researching Alan’s contributions, one cannot go past his amazing efforts he put into establishing and running the club in the early evolution of the club. This effort can best be portrayed by an article penned by Alan himself and published in Checkpoint No:20 below – 

Cast your mind back to a time when very few people had seen a computer. Imagine a world without email discussion groups or web pages. In such a world, how did anyone know about cycling events in another country? Communication depended on a few cycling magazines, mostly aimed at the racing world. The only publicity available to people on the fringe of cycling, itself a fringe sport, was an occasional article in a magazine. 

That is how I first heard of Audax. While I was on a three-month cycling tour of Britain in 1979, I picked up a copy of a cycling magazine. It included a long article about members of an organisation called Audax United Kingdom taking part in a ride of 1200km in France. I read it with a mixture of excitement and incredulity. 

Back then, I assumed that only a highly trained athlete, approaching Olympic standard, could ride 400km in a day. The prospect of covering triple that distance in 90 hours was overwhelming. But there was the evidence in front of me – a photograph of ordinary-looking people. Some of them had grey hair. Their bikes had mudguards and handlebar bags. Some of them were even smiling. I was determined to join them. I carried the magazine all over Britain, carefully folded up in my rear pannier. 

A few months after I returned to Australia, I decided to start an Audax club. By pure chance, I saw Sir Hubert Opperman among the officials at a criterium in Richmond in Melbourne. I walked up to him, introduced myself, told him that I wanted to do Paris-Brest-Paris (PBP) and asked for his advice. Who better to ask? Oppy invited me to his apartment. We spent an evening talking bikes and he gave me a pile of literature about randonneur rides, about the Audax Club Parisien (ACP) and about Audax United Kingdom. 

I wrote to ACP and asked if we could start an Audax club in Australia. I wrote to Audax United Kingdom and asked for their assistance. That was how it was in the days before email and the World Wide Web. We wrote letters, posted them and waited. A two-week turnaround was unusually fast. In this case, I waited rather longer. 

I never knew the whole story, but it seems that ACP had contacted Oppy and asked about my bona fides. It took him a while to establish that I was not the rabble-rousing ratbag, with a very similar name, who repeatedly wrote incendiary letters to the newspapers, damning cars and demanding cyclists’ rights. Eventually, Robert Lepertel from ACP replied, approving the formation of an Audax club in Australia, offering me the position of Australian correspondent and suggesting that I contact Russell Moore from Sydney, who had independently written to them just a week or two after me. Audax United Kingdom sent me a copy of the rules in English. With so much encouragement, the idea was bound to take off. 

I wondered how to get started. The main ingredient was missing – riders. Explaining what Audax was about took a lot of work. I persisted in talking and cajoling, telling anyone who would listen that Audax was great idea. I talked to the Bicycle Institute of Victoria. I advertised in Australian Cycling magazines. I contacted cycling clubs in Melbourne. Some long, hard rides already existed. The “Knox Hard Hundred” of 100 miles, the “Two Hundred Miles in 24 Hours”, after the fashion of similar events held by the Cyclists Touring Club in Britain and the “Bendigo Double Century”, of 100 miles from Melbourne to Bendigo on Saturday and back on Sunday were all of a comparable difficulty to the shorter brevets. Despite this background, Audax style rides encountered resistance. Checkpoints and time limits seemed alien and unnecessary. The notion that the clock keeps ticking even during sleep breaks seemed unfair. Nevertheless, I enticed Glenn Rodda, Fabian Dexter and Malcolm Martin from the Melbourne Bicycle Touring Club to accompany me on a 200km ride starting at Flinders Street Station. Audax had taken its first step. 

Early in 1981, Russell and I agreed that it was time to form a club, to organise qualifying rides for the 1983 PBP. I wanted to avoid state rivalries and to ensure that any rider anywhere in Australia could have confidence that we intended to form a truly national club. To reinforce the message, we agreed to meet in Albury, as it is on the border of NSW and Victoria. 

Rather than merely hold a meeting, we decided to combine it with two 600km rides to Albury, one starting in Melbourne and one in Sydney. “The Age” in Melbourne used to have a regular page of free notices for community events, so I advertised a supported ride of 600km in two days from Melbourne to Albury. The support consisted of one car to carry luggage and two very generous volunteers who put up the riders’ tents for them at the overnight stop. I was too naive to be surprised that several people rang up and joined in. 

Russell was the only person to complete 600km in under 40 hours. All over northern Victoria, the Melbourne group was plagued by three-corner jacks (also called caltrops or bindi-eyes). People had punctures three at a time. When we needed to stop, we were reduced to halting in the middle of the road and carrying our bikes to safety, taking care that our tyres did not touch the ground. At one point I could not slip my foot into my toe-clips (remember them?) because the soles of my shoes were covered in prickles. We spent hours fixing punctures. 

Nevertheless, on Easter Sunday in 1981, about ten cyclists sat on the banks of the Murray and formed a club called “Audax Australia”, with Russell Moore as president, myself as secretary and Tony McDonnell as treasurer. In those happy days, no-one thought of legal incorporation. We just did it.

The greatest difficulty continued to be finding people who would organise rides or attempt such distances. Most racing clubs simply scoffed at the idea. No-one had any experience in organising randonnees. The most enthusiastic response came from veteran racing clubs and from the more hard-bitten touring cyclists. In Victoria, we began with a typed newsletter of two pages, including a calendar of one ride every six weeks. 

The rides went the standard distances within the standard time limits with designated towns to stop for rest and refreshment. At first no-one carried a brevet card. It was hard enough to find routes, organise rides and promote them. Brevets, supported checkpoints and homologation had to wait until we had enough members to share the work. In hindsight, the prospect of a medal from France would probably have made the club more attractive, but initially there was no money and no time. Some rides started with two entrants. A field of 10 was a big success. Often, everyone taking part would ride the entire course together in a peloton, waiting for anyone who had to stop. 

Gradually, Audax caught on. John Drummond, the editor of National Cycling, agreed to publish a short article about Audax. Word of mouth attracted a few more. Occasionally, one would meet another cyclist who had heard of Audax. In NSW, Russell Moore had established a nucleus of riders and four Australians completed PBP in 1983. After about a year as secretary, I bowed out of the organisation of the club. I had recently married, started a new job and moved to a new city and I could not put in the effort Audax deserved. Fortunately, the seed I planted was in fertile ground. The credit for cultivating the seedling belongs to others. 

Terry Gross formalised the use of brevet cards and organised the first awards of medals. In those days, ACP had us parcel up completed brevet cards and post them to Paris to be checked. They would come back weeks or months later with an homologation sticker and a medallion, but better than that, they came back with the mystique, the aura, of having been approved by the organisers of the oldest marathon cycling event in the world. At first, ACP would not sanction any other 1200km rides anywhere in the world but accepted 1000km brevets as a compromise. Terry organised the first Australian 1000km ride in August 1984. That, to my mind, is when Audax Australia came of age. 

By this time, Audax had become unstoppable. The big signature events, the Opperman and the Alpine Classic, became fixed points on many calendars and many non-members participated. The club still struggled occasionally, but one or two people always picked up the baton and continued the relay. From this distance, I will not attempt to single out names: there were many and I might unfairly omit someone, especially those from Sydney. 

In the beginning, life was simpler. No-one needed to consult a lawyer before they got on a bike. Risk management consultants were unknown. The volume of traffic on rural roads was half present levels. So now I am especially grateful to those who participate in our rides, with their mixture of fun, hard grind and camaraderie, to those who stand at a picnic table in a cold, dark park in the middle of nowhere, preparing food for cyclists who dash in, eat and dash out, and to those who organise meetings, bank money, print newsletters and attend to the myriad of other tasks demanded by such a successful organisation. As Oppy used to say, we Audax riders are among the last of the true sporting amateurs. 

On the day that Checkpoint Editor, Patrick van Dyk, asked me to write this story of how Audax began in Australia, my PBP medal arrived in the mail, 25 years after I read about it in a cycling magazine in England. It was worth the wait. 

Alan Walker, Checkpoint #20

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