26 June, 2018   By: Leah McLennan

When it comes to the Kimberley’s most iconic track, traversing the 660km Gibb River Road can be challenging enough by four-wheel drive.

But to cycle it - hunched over a bicycle frame, Lycra-clad and out of mobile range - takes ‘doing the Gibb’ to a whole new level.

“This year was insane,” says Simon Rimmer, event director of fundraising bike ride the Gibb Challenge.

“It will be recorded in the annals as The Windy One."

Each day the dusty peloton faced fierce and unrelenting 40 kilometre per hour headwinds – a feature not experienced in any previous edition of the Gibb Challenge.

“I got pushed back up at least two hills,” says Rimmer. “And a cock-eyed bob - a willy willy - smashed one of the 6x3 metre catering marques at Home Valley Station.”

However the by the time the ride finished in May, the nearly 300 riders and volunteers were exhausted, exhilarated, very dirty, but otherwise unscathed.

A group of riders celebrating on the Gibb River Road after a day of cycling
Simon Rimmer and riders winding down on a cool night after a day of cycling

The iconic Gibb 

If you trace a rough pencil line through the heart of the Kimberley from Derby to Wyndham, you have the Gibb River Road, which as well as being one of WA’s greatest road trips, has become the punishing route for the annual cycling tour as well.

The ride comprises of teams of between two to six riding in relay and takes five days.

Cyclists came from all over Australia and from as far away as Germany, Hong Kong, Singapore and South Korea, that kicks off from Derby with day one of the ride covering nearly 225km to take riders to the shelter of Imintji campsite at the foot of the King Leopold range.

While corrugated in places, in other areas the Gibb is heavily rutted with rocks and stones. 

Adding to the fun for cyclists, there’s also sections of “soft sand that creates a burn in your thighs”, says Rimmer.

However the views along the route, which also takes in Mt Elizabeth, Ellebrae Station and finishes at El Questro Wilderness Park, are spectacular. 

For Rimmer, a police officer who started the Gibb River Ride back in 2007, the best stretch is from Ellenbrae to Home Valley Station.

“It’s arguably the most scenic stage of the event and takes riders through the stunning Kimberley landscape with features including Rolly’s and Gregory’s jump ups, and the lookout towards the Cockburn Range.”

A woman riding along the Gibb River Road
The bumpy ride along the Gibb River Road is all part of the fun

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Girls in the saddle

While some like Rimmer are old hands, the ride attracts new teams every year. Around 70 per cent of the riders in 2018 were ‘taking on the Gibb’ for the very first time.

Among them was Kirsten Warr, part of the four “all farmers wives” team called the Fat Bottomed Girls.

Warr and team, all from the WA wheatbelt towns of Binnu and Olgivie, were quick to point out the team’s name refers to the tyre size of the bikes.

“The name provided a whole lot of fodder for banter along the Gibb,” Warr says.

Kristen Warr with a team mate on the Gibb Challenge
Half of the Fat Bottomed Girls team, stopping to rest

Despite May often being busy times for wheatbelt farmers, the four ladies said the lure of an the epic adventure and chance to fundraise for the Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS) was too strong, 

“We filled the freezers and left the husbands to their seeding programs in what is the busiest and most stressful time of the year on the farm – sorry fellas.”

While the ride was “bloody tough” and the headwind extremely challenging, the scenery made it worth the hard yakka, she says.

“It was exhausting, yet inspiring.

“A personal highlight would have to be the ride into Home Valley with the incredible view after the slog up to the lookout.

“Although crossing the line at El Questro, being adorned with the finishing medal and the subsequent team hug will be a moment hard to forget.”

A food truck along the Gibb River mountain bike challenge
Refuelling on the Gibb Challenge

Riding for Angels

Dianne and Cindy Prest could genuinely be described as mountain bike novices when they decided to tackle the Gibb ride. 

Dianne, who occasionally took the kids by bike to the park, only got a mountain bike for Christmas just five months before the Gibb Ride.

Cindy, a mum of four, only received her loaned mountain bike one day before the event. Although she did put in some pre-event training.

“She trained by riding her road bike on a wind trainer in the lounge room while watching the kids,” says Todd Prest, Dianne’s husband and team member.

But the team had a deeply personal reason for riding - to raise funds for the Foundation for Angelman Syndrome Therapeutics Australia, a syndrome that affects Todd and Dianne’s son Daniel.

“Riding for Angels” raised $5000 for the RFDS and $17,000 for FAST Australia and had a brilliant time, says Todd.

“Even with the unwanted head winds, the cold nights that no one was prepared for, everyone involved had an excellent adventure and came away unscathed except for a broken cleat - which I discovered later was a pedal,” he says.

 Two team mates shaking hands after a day of riding on the Gibb River challenge
The camaraderie on the challenge helps with the dust and heat

Grown beyond all expectations

Expecting the fundraising bike ride to originally interest about “25 riders or so”, the Gibb Challenge now gets more than twice as many applications to ride as it has places.

“We intentionally restrict numbers to enhance the safety and enjoyment for all our participants. 300 is an ideal number, though we have stretched the dusty peloton to closer to 400 on a couple of occasions,” says Rimmer.

Each rider pledges to raise $1000 for the principal beneficiary, currently the RFDS, and then can fundraise for other causes. 

Over the past twelve years, the Gibb Challenge has raised nearly $7 million for worthy causes, including more than $400,000 for the RFDS this year. 

A group of riders celebrating on the Gibb River Road
Finishing the Gibb Challenge is a huge achievement

“It has grown well beyond my expectations,” says Rimmer, who thought up his “little fundraising bike ride” idea when he and his wife Anna were living in Broome. 

“You pinch yourself when you think about it.

“It’s not about the riding. No one wants the dust and the corrugation and the heat. It’s about the fellowship and the camping and enjoying the Kimberley.

"It’s a life-defining event.”

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