Getting around

An epic journey celebrates an inspiring Sydney bike champion

A Google search inspired Sarah Maddock to get back on her bike after discovering she shared the same name as a cycling pioneer.

Sarah Maddock

39-year-old Sarah Maddock wasn’t quite sure what to expect when she typed her own name into Google.

But her curiosity deepened when the search unearthed a pioneer from the past.

The Sarah Maddock of the 1890s was instrumental in encouraging Australian women to ride bikes more than 130 years ago.

She championed women riding during the cycling craze at the turn of the 20th century and led the first Sydney Ladies Bicycle Club.

First ride of the Sydney Ladies Cycling Club - Sarah Maddock is 4th from the right with her husband Ernest next to her
First ride of the Sydney Ladies Cycling Club - Sarah Maddock is 4th from the right with her husband Ernest next to her

She was also a poster girl for eliminating discrimination of women in sport.

Poster courtesy of Maddock family
Poster courtesy of Maddock family

Quoted in the New South Wales Cycling Gazette on 19 June 1897, Sarah Maddock said, “There is a charm in cycle touring which appeals to us more strongly than any other branch of the pastime and few people who have once tried it will be able to resist its fascination”.

125 years ago, Sarah Maddock also became the first woman to undertake an epic cycling trip from Sydney to Melbourne.

She’d been riding for just 18 months and agreed to join her husband Ernest on doctors orders to make a “complete change” to improve his ill health.

Together they rode 600 miles (around 965km) along terrible roads, through mountainous swamps and with strong head winds against them.

The couple took several wrong turns along the way and narrowly escaped a runaway bull north of Melbourne.

Still, they made a cracking pace, reaching Melbourne 10 days after they set off.

The Maryborough Chronicle reported on 11 October 1894, “Mr Maddock was as fresh as paint when he arrived, and his wife seemed none the worse for the fast ride … she was dressed in a neat navy serge costume, and each carried a complete change of clothing on their handle bars.”

The Sydney Mail, September 1895
The Sydney Mail, September 1895

The journey was a victory for women everywhere and Sarah Maddock became a strong symbol of equality.

The Shoalhaven Advertiser, on 25 October 1894 said, “Mrs Maddock is the first lady rider who has ever performed this feat, and those who saw her come into Melbourne on Saturday evening required no further arguments to assure them that the age of feminine progress has arrived with bewildering velocity and that in the important department of bicycling the ladies are quite able to leave the men behind.”

The incredible story reinspired the modern Sarah Maddock. She had not ridden a bike since she was a child, but the success more than 100 years earlier inspired her to get back on a bike.

In August, she’ll follow in similar footsteps, departing Sydney for Melbourne on a 14-day bike tour spanning almost 1,000km.

“I remember thinking it would be amazing to do that one day myself. I got into riding to work, while also looking into the history of Sarah’s fascinating past,” Sarah said.

She also tracked down direct descendants through an old obituary notice and got in touch.

“I really wanted to share my tour with the family. Eventually I found Sarah’s great granddaughter and gave her a call. It was a little strange at first as we’re not related, but they’ve become my second family.

“They shared memories of growing up with Sarah but knew very little of what she had achieved, so it was wonderful to share her legacy with them.”

Gillian Appleton from Paddington spent much of her childhood school holidays with her great grandmother, the original Sarah Maddock.

“Sarah was fantastic character who lived well into her 90s. Although I knew her very well and she lived to a great age, I didn’t know anything about her cycling history – she’d never talked about it,” Gillian said.

“When Sarah contacted our family it was quite a discovery. I subsequently spoke to a friend who was a great cycling enthusiast and mentioned my great grandmother was a great lady cyclist back in her day and he said, ‘good heavens, she was famous!’

“It’s wonderful the other Sarah is drawing attention to this journey. It’s shedding light on a lost part of history.”

Sarah Maddock's Sydney to Melbourne ride replicates the journey 125 years ago made by another Sarah Maddock
Sarah Maddock's Sydney to Melbourne ride replicates the journey 125 years ago made by another Sarah Maddock

Gillian and several other family members will join Sarah Maddock in Sydney to wish her luck ahead of her memorial ride.

“I’ve been training for months and I’m excited about visiting some of the same old towns the original Sarah rode through 125 years before,” Sarah said.

“I do feel like there’s a bit of pressure on my shoulders. But when the ride gets tough, I’ll be inspired by Sarah’s story of resilience. Thankfully I won’t be wearing a corset!”

Follow Sarah Maddock's journey on Instagram.

If this story inspires you to get back on a bike, sign up for a cycling confidence course at the Sydney Park Cycling Centre.

Published 27 August 2019, updated 11 December 2019