Sydney will begin celebration of the annual Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras on the 16th February 2024. The festival has been held every year since 1978 and it is the largest Pride event in Oceania. Its primary focus is on celebrating communities of people that identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex or queer. The festival's culmination is the iconic parade down Oxford Street. And it will be a vibrant, glittery and joyful spectacle with over 200 floats and 12,000 marchers.
Much research has focused on the benefits of community to LGBTIQ+ communities. For bicycle riders, there are few better sources of community than engaging with a Bicycle User Group (BUG). As Mardi Gras approaches, it’s time to showcase Sydney's foremost LGBTIQ+ oriented BUG, Sydney Spokes!
A Sydney Spokes group out on a ride in central Sydney pause for a photo at a colourful spot in Prince Alfred Park! The 90m rainbow path was painted in 2017 to commemorate the November 2017 decision to legalise same-sex marriage in Australia (Image: Sydney Spokes)
The history of Sydney Spokes
Sydney Spokes was founded in 1986 after Allan Hildon posted an ad in the local paper searching for people to cycle with. Out of the four people that went on the first ride, three went on to formalise the group as a committee: Peter Wilson, Les Clements, and Allan himself.
The name was chosen to be in line with a comparable cycling group that Allan had heard about. “Different Spokes” was founded in 1983 in Southern California to promote cycling activities among members and friends of the gay and lesbian communities. It offered a wide variety of road and mountain bike rides within the greater Los Angeles area, as well as social events and weekend trips.
Allan dreamed of riding with kindred spirits and wondered if a something similar would take off in Sydney.
Sydney Spokes began with a schedule of rides each Sunday, mainly congregating around Centennial Park. Ride attendance varied from 10 to 20 cyclists. Ride schedules were communicated via post to a carefully maintained mailing list.
“It makes me laugh to think how primitive the distribution system was – stamps and envelopes no less!” recalls Allan. “I used to surreptitiously type the program during the lunch break on the only available typewriter in the office where I worked.”
The group also held the occasional weekend-away rides, where members would travel to regional caravan parks and dress up for a day out in the countryside.
“On one occasion about 12 shrieking queens, in cycling drag, invaded a tearoom somewhere near Bowral,” says Allan. “Apparently, this was quite a shock to some of the old dears enjoying their Devonshire teas!”
A more recent ride away from the city. Sadly, there is no public record of groups dressed in drag on country outings! (Image: Sydney Spokes)
For some great photos from the early days of Sydney Spokes, check out the fabulous History page on the group’s website.
Sydney Spokes today
Today, Sydney Spokes is one of Sydney's most prominent BUGs, with around 60 members. Over half of those ride regularly. Riders come from all over the metropolitan area, from Manly to Prospect Reservoir. Rides are of varied grades and objectives, with both ‘social’ and ‘training’ rides. Social rides include sightseeing, regional trips and mountain bike rides. Training rides are more taxing and typically go for longer distances.
A rest with a view at Seaforth after tackling some big hills! (Image: Sydney Spokes)
Although the group enjoys riding all over NSW, Greg Rogan, former president of Sydney Spokes, notes that members still feel more at ease in gay-friendly areas such as Darlinghurst.
However, Greg believes tolerance of different sexualities is improving across NSW. “After a long struggle for acceptance…times are at long last changing for the better,” says Greg.
Sydney Spokes jerseys proudly on display on a social ride (Image: Sydney Spokes)
Mardi Gras is the highlight of the year
Sydney Spokes has been front and centre at the Mardi Gras parade many times over the years. The group participated for the first time in 1987 and many floats have been awarded prizes. Check out some of the past outfits and themes in the group’s history archives here.
Last year was bigger than ever as Mardi Gras united with World Pride united to present Australasia’s first truly global LGBTQIA+ festival. Sydney Spokes was accepted to ride with the parade. Its float’s theme was ‘Ride with Universal Pride’.
Members of Sydney Spokes spent many hours in the workshop creating planets, satellites and moons for the Mardi Gras float (Image: Sydney Spokes)
Each rider had a planet or moon attached to their bike and these looped around a central sun. It took some careful choreography and lots of practice to ensure that a dozen bike riders could stay in a neat circle in a confined space while the procession kept moving forward!
All dressed up and ready to go. The ‘Ride with Universal Pride’ gang in Hyde Park just before the parade kicked off (Image: Sydney Spokes)
Sydney Spokes was awarded the Best Theme Float prized by one influencer. Some video footage can be found here. Fast forward to about 13 minutes to see planets in action.
Lord Mayor Clover Moore and Sydney MP Alex Greenwich stop by to show support (Image: Sydney Spokes)
Want to get involved with a BUG in your area?
Find out how to become a member of your local BUG or set up a new BUG here.
“There are few better ways to connect with like-minded people than joining a BUG,” says Peter McLean, Bicycle NSW CEO. “Group bicycle riding has the capacity to bring people together like few other activities can. Bicycle NSW is proud to be partnered with Sydney Spokes and we urge anyone interested to check them out.”
This is part of a new series of stories featuring the many active and dedicated BUGs throughout NSW. We have recently written about the Inner West Bicycle Coalition, CAMWEST, Bike North, BIKEast and the Western Sydney Cycling Network. Next up - Newcastle Cycleways Movement!