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Costumed Crusaders at the Three Ring Circus

01 July 2015

by Ollie Whalley

Riding a bike off road is a challenging affair, so why do people choose to ride in costume? This quandary struck me whilst riding the Three Ring Circus event at Wingello Forest Park amidst a gaggle of clowns. It dawned on me that there is something very special about cyclists who don flamboyant accoutrements in favour of comfortable and functional clothing. Thus began my attempt to understand why.

In my years of racing I’ve seen smurfs, muppets, lions, fluro onesies, gillie suits and disco helmeted oddballs all having a grand old time on their bikes. While tassels, wigs, and baggy pantaloons win style points, the fact is they offer no performance advantage. In many cases, a costume actually makes the event harder. A scientific study of four clowns interviewed at the end of the Three Ring Circus’ Matinee event revealed that they indeed had more fun, but not without some costume induced discomfort.

Recalling my own experience from some years ago, I can say that riding in a Gorilla suit was arduous. I was clammier than a walrus in the tropics and with obstructed visibility through tiny eye holes I only lasted three laps before I had to shed the suit. Being costumed certainly didn’t make it easier!

Occasionally the choice to don a costume is motivated by an extrinsic reward. Whether in the form of a 20” shraeder valve tube or something more valued, the prospect of getting a prize motivates some, but not all costume wearing competitors.

While the prizes at the Three Ring Circus were generous in an attempt to promote costumed crusaders, this isn’t always the case. In one of the biggest cases of costume related injustice, the adjudicators judged my gorilla suited feats beneath those of a guy in an op-shop suit, so even extreme examples of anthropomorphism can go unrewarded.

Perhaps it is the psychological boost one gets from the support and respect of fellow riders. Inevitably this materializes as one huffs and puffs up a hill, barely able to breathe through some decorative mask, the hoots and hollers of support well received motivation.

This was evident at the Three Ring Circus event, where the friendly local fire brigade who had come out to marshal were observed to shout encouraging words to all, but to those in costumes with particular vigour. To be honest, the flowy trails in Wingello were good enough to induce riding stoke without the need for extrinsic encouragement. A particular highlight was the Nyes Creek Road Bypass funded by Ground Effect’s slush fund, which took riders on a technical rocky descent to a creek, then up a snake of neck craning singletrack back to the top.

Some people just like being different from a crowd, and in an age where single speed has become mainstream and tires are growing desperately wide in an effort to gain traction with the next niche, costumes are a great fallback for those suffering an individuality disorder.


The most likely reason for wearing a costume is none of these. People wear costumes for the sheer joy of it. It reframes their experience from one of performance focused suffering to a frivolous jaunt about the forest, something which is especially joyous on the trails of Wingello.

The real reason why you see so many costumed bikers is that mountainbiking goes with dressing up like cheese with crackers. To the uninitiated it is difficult to explain why we ride around in ever increasing loops as we do, but doing it in a costume is not much of a stretch beyond this. Wearing a costume is a natural extension of riding one’s mountainbike, throwing seriousness to the wind and joyously celebrating the thrills of shredding the dirt.

With my own memories of faux gorilla induced suffering fading, I might just don a costume at my next event and you should do the same!

Nitty Gritty

  • The Three Ring Circus is an annual event held in late July. The event consists of a 20km night race on Saturday and a 50km Matinee during the day, with camping, kids races and circus antics in between.
  • For those with little patience, the fantastic Wingello forest trails including the Slush Funded Nyes Creek Road Diversion can be ridden year round. Find out more about the trails and opportunities to help from Highland Trails.
  • For some costume inspiration head to Bike Portland or Department of Cycling’s Report from the 2010 Singlespeed World Championships.