Sarah Maddock: the First Woman to Cycle from Sydney to Melbourne in 1894... and the Modern-Day Woman Who's Following in Her Tire Tracks.
This summer, Sarah Maddock is riding her bicycle over 500 miles from Sydney to Melbourne. She won't be the first Sarah Maddock to do so: One hundred and twenty-five years ago, a gal by the same name rebelled against cultural norms to become the first woman to complete the ride, and went on to be an advocate for women's cycling (during the Victorian era, no less).
Sarah Maddock & her husband Ernst pedaled over 500 miles in 1894.
The modern-day Sarah Maddock is inspired by her namesake's journey, and hopes to write a book about "the original Sarah" after her trip this summer, which has turned into a partnership with Mulga Bicycle Tours so that others may join in the ride. When she's not cycling, Sarah pursues her passions of ballet dancing, microadventures, and curating Adelaide’s tiniest art gallery. She granted us this exclusive interview.
Sarah’s partnering with Mulga Bicycle Tours so that others may join the ride.
Sarah, how did you fall in love with cycling?
I used to cycle to high school, and on weekends my sister and I would go for cycling adventures around the Canberra bike paths. I loved the sense of freedom, and the adventures you could take by bike. That has always stuck with me.
When I moved to Adelaide in South Australia, a bike was a great way to explore my new city and it’s something I try to do whenever I’m on holiday in a new place. At the moment I use my bike mainly for commuting to work... and of course training for the Sydney-to-Melbourne bike ride!
What inspired you to try bicycle travel?
I’ve been following adventurers like Alastair Humphreys on Instagram. He’s an intrepid adventurer himself, and he often talks with people who are keen to undertake adventures but lack the time, money or confidence. He coined the term and concept “microadventure,” and the “5pm – 9am adventures” – small adventures that are close to home. The idea is that you can leave work at 5pm and be back at your desk by 9am, but you’ve had an adventure in between!
“The microadventure approach helped me to challenge myself and build my confidence, so that I can undertake something big!”
Alistair’s enthusiasm is catching and I started undertaking a few of these adventures in Adelaide, from short walks to overnight bike and camping trips. This sparked my adventurous spirit to tackle Sarah’s ride from Sydney to Melbourne, an idea that had been dormant in my mind since the early 2000’s.
Sarah’s original journey made me keen to embark on my own adventure, to explore Australia. And the microadventure approach helped me in challenging myself, building my confidence and breaking the cycle of working 9am – 5pm, so that I can undertake something big!
You mention that you were impressed and inspired when you learned of your namesake’s 500+ mile bike journey from Sydney to Melbourne. What impressed you most about that Sarah Maddock of 1894?
There was still a sense of the unknown when Sarah and her husband tackled the ride, so I admire her bravery and courage. Public opinion at the time was not supportive of women cycling. There were many outspoken critics, who cited negative impacts that cycling had (or could have) on women. This included impacts upon women’s health, the inappropriateness of letting women cycle on their own, and the socially unacceptable clothing. It took a woman with a lot of willpower to undertake this trip.
“In 2018 I suffered a bicycle injury… It took me a while to get back on the bike.”
You mentioned that you wanted to do this trip solo in 2018, but that an injury postponed your travel plans. How did that setback and physical healing process affect you?
I was planning to do the ride with one other friend in 2018, but I suffered a bicycle injury. It definitely shook my confidence a lot, and it took me a while to get back on the bike. The physical recovery was just a matter of time: it was more about being easy on myself in terms of being mentally comfortable with cycling again.
You’ve decided to lead a guided tour from Sydney to Melbourne, rather than complete the trip solo. What prompted that change?
After postponing the ride, I talked with one of Sarah Maddock’s (the original) great-grandkids. She said to take the setback as an opportunity, to see how I could improve on the original idea or alter it slightly. That got me researching again, looking into different options, and eventually partnering with Mulga Bicycle Tours.
“I believe adventures are better when you can share them with multiple people!”
The difference now is that more people get to learn about Sarah’s story, about this amazing woman in Australia’s cycling history. We’ve had several people sign up already, so the adventure has grown beyond my initial idea. I believe adventures are better when you can share them with multiple people!
What advice would you offer to a woman who wants to try bike touring, but is hesitant to do so?
Start small...but start. Follow Instagram accounts and blogs of people doing adventures and bike touring to pick up advice and tips. And don’t be put off by friends, colleagues and family who try to warn you off doing something. They naturally have your best interests at heart, but they may not have done an adventure before either.
Anything else you’d like to share with readers?
Life is short, so if you have an inkling of an idea or adventure, take steps to make it a reality: Don’t put it off!