Arabella Watson certainly isn’t one to follow the pack when it comes to riding her bike. From her red polka dot helmet to her powder pink bike, she’s all about breaking moulds even when that means scooting along the Brisbane Valley Rail Trail with a fleet of MAMILS while wearing tartan, Docs and fishnet stockings. All because that was what she felt comfortable riding in.
Arabella’s cycling journey is one most cyclists can relate to. Like every other Australian kid, she’d grown up scooting around her neighbourhood on a bicycle, only to toss it aside when life got busier. Nine years ago, she hopped back in the saddle for a 2km trip to the shops that left her gasping and wondering just why she’d ever enjoyed cycling.
“I was in so much agony that I thought, ‘Who would ever do this for fun?!’” Arabella said. Flash forward nine years and she’s a total cycling convert having conquered biking around Brisbane, a solo tour of Tasmania’s east coast and a European ‘tour de food and wine’ with her friend.
In all those 1000s of kilometres, Arabella has never let a lack of Lycra or a fancy bike stop her and she’d love to see more people ‘riding just for themselves’. “Just pull out any old bike and whatever you happen to be comfortable wearing. For me it’s almost that old fashioned promenade feeling, making it special getting all dressed up on the bike,” she said.
Though Arabella does succumb to the lure of Lycra sometimes, within reason. Her Brisbane Valley Rail Trail riding mates constantly pleaded for her to wear Lycra, just once, for them. “So I did, but I went and got one of my daughter’s dance costumes which was a red Lycra tutu covered in sequins,” Arabella grinned.
Arabella is tackling the 75km course on her step through bike in this year’s Great Brisbane Bike Ride. “I think people get put off by the distance. Don’t be hesitant. Just get out there and do it. Once you’re going and you get in that groove it’s not so hard.
“Each time (you ride) you go that little bit further and it gets that little bit easier. You get more confident.”
Arabella’s cycling challenges have often grown from just a passing thought. That’s how her solo tour along Tasmania’s east coast came about. “I got this idea in my head that I wanted to do it and I actually put the map up on my fridge and on the wall at work for a few months beforehand just to get it into my head. Once you put it out there and tell people, you just have to do it. There’s no going back.”
But it’s a long way from daydreams to reality, and there were some tough days encountered in the deep south. “There were more than a couple times where I was thinking seriously, this is ridiculous.” Memories of the pain of endless hills and cold rain have faded behind the happier ones enough to tempt her back to the Apple Isle. “I’ve now got the map out again and we’ve got the west coast pencilled in for November.”
So what will be the icing on the cake on this trip for the woman-on-wheels who’s gone from a 2km ride to one that will be over 900km? “Friend of mine wants to do it with me and he’s a man, and he said it’s because he’s too scared to do it on his own!”
To hear more about Arabella's cycling adventures, check out her TEDxIpswich talk.