Growing up I recall road trips across the Nullarbor Plain, being mesmerised by the seemingly endless streaks of yellow canola and golden wheat as the family car moved through WA’s Wheatbelt.
As an adult I see this country in a different light, mainly on my bicycle — moving fast enough to cover a lot of ground but slow enough to absorb the scenery.
A recent two days of cycling in Beverley ignited some childhood memories and carved entirely new ones with like-minded bicycle fanatics.
The mid-October weekend is structured around two main events — a 114km road race simply known as “The Beverley” on Saturday, and a 50 or 100-mile recreational ride on Sunday dubbed the Beverley Heroic.
Naturally I signed up for both, opting for the longer version on the second day. In hindsight my intentions were overly ambitious.
Beverley, about 130km east of Perth, is a sleepy rural town at the crossroads of the State’s major eastern and southern highways.
The 90-minute drive is undulating and picturesque, taking in the vast green expanses of the Avon Valley.
I arrive about an hour before the handicap race, which is more than enough time to travel up the town’s main street, dotted with small craft shops, a bakery, art gallery and two pubs.
Beverley’s town hall is a focal point of the region — a roomy Art Deco building that for this weekend held a handful of collectable bikes, in a nod to the rich history of the event.
With my bike in tow I collect my race numbers, feeling the familiar mixture of excitement and apprehension that accompanies this sport.
The handicap road race, where the weakest riders are sent off first and the strongest follow minutes later in a game of cat and mouse, travels along Talbot West Road towards Wooroloo and back along the same road into Beverley.
It is brutal racing, made all the more difficult by headwinds and untimely bouts of torrential rain. I hold my own, rolling with fast groups and maintaining a steady average but ultimately getting dropped from my bunch about 20km from the finish.
A fellow rider remarks on the sheer beauty of the landscape as we crest a hill about 5km from the finish — I guess the benefit of getting dropped is I can focus on more than just the wheel in front.
I look up and see a blanket of yellow canola for what seems like kilometres ahead, enveloped by emerald green grass.
I finish after three hours and 26 minutes, alone but happy I gave my best. I turn my attention to the following day, when I will tackle 160km of undulating terrain on varied surfaces.
I spread the night across the town’s two pubs — the Beverley Hotel, where I have dinner with my cycling comrades and the Freemasons Hotel, where I sleep.
The next day I begrudgingly stir at 5am to prepare for another day on the bike. I kit up and roll in to the town hall by 6am.
Event organiser Toby Hodgson is floating around the registration area, dressed in 1900s cycling attire and sporting a fake moustache. Later he tells me about the rich history of the weekend.
“The Beverley was WA’s first and biggest road race, so Beverley is the birthplace of long-distance bike racing in WA,” he said.
“In a more modern sense it still really lends itself to bike racing, with relatively quiet roads and fantastic scenery.”
The Beverley road race was started in 1897 by passionate cyclist and RAC founding board member Percy Armstrong, as a 116-mile race from Beverley to Perth.
Riders traversed sand and gravel along tracks designed for horse and cart, on single-speed bikes in the early years and upgrading to limited gears as time went on.
The handicap-style race, endured until 1999 with the exception of the two world wars.
Mr Hodgson and WA Historical Society president Rob Frith revived the race four years ago, spreading it across two days to cater for diehard racers and history buffs.
“The idea (behind the Heroic) was to have an 1897 feel where you are riding on old roads, gravel roads, old bikes, but being welcome to anyone who wants to come along on any kind of bike,” he said.
The relatively new format of cyclocross was a recent addition to the Beverley weekend, with a race on the Saturday evening after the handicap.
The weekend also features a town ride — this time it was a short night ride on Saturday.
About 400 cyclists and their families travelled to Beverley for this year’s event, including 120 racers and 150 doing the Sunday ride.
Only about 50 signed up for the “full heroic” 100 mile option — I was among some dedicated and enthusiastic company.
My legs felt surprisingly good as I stood waiting to push off into the country landscape through York, through State forest, on a mix of gravel and tarmac.
“Be careful of the railway tracks — they are out to eat you,” Mr Hodgson said.
This humorous advice turned out to be a premonition just minutes into my ride. I had hardly begun when my front wheel became lodged in a metal track and I flew over the bars on to sharp-stoned bitumen.
A friend followed and ploughed into the ground behind me — all we could do was laugh, our ride was over.
Dejected we sat glumly in the back of the event ambulance and headed back into Beverley, sore but already looking forward to attempting this landmark event again next year.
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Passionate about sharing his knowledge of Western Australia’s environment and more, Leigh Simmons is a professor of Evolutionary Biology at The University of Western Australia and the proud author of a new book titled Naturalist on the Bibbulmun.