The Melburn-Roobaix is Australia’s answer to the equally prestigious and ridiculous Paris-Roubaix, a one day road(ish) bike race in France. What makes the race notable is that the sealed road sections are separated by sections of cobblestones, which riders must race just as fast across. You can see the transition from one of the sections in 2010 here.
The Australian version is a little less… a lot less serious… than the French version. In 2013 one of the “winners” was a vision impaired person dressed as a horse on a tandem. The official winner is randomly selected from everyone who finishes the ride.

I knew at a theoretical level that Melbourne had great cycling infrastructure, but it wasn’t until I had spent a day riding through it’s suburbs that I really figured out how enormously superior it is to Sydney.

Our trip to Melbourne was itself fraught, my flight was cancelled the night before and I was on the tail end of a flu, B had his 15mm bike spanner confiscated as a security risk, meaning he couldn’t put it back together when he arrived, M was a late scratching and MvM was a late cancellation followed by an even later cancellation reversal. L&W had their flight delayed on the way home. Everyone was at some time inconvenienced, but, the weekend was spectacularly good fun. Since the flight was cancelled, I decided not to take my own bike, which is both good and bad. It feels like a close friend didn’t get to experience the vent, on the other hand, that very same friend was a pain in the arse to bring and may have failed where the hire bike triumphed…ish.

One day two of the trip (arrived Friday, ride Sunday, leave Monday) I took a short ride around the Melbourne CBD to test myself and my hire bike. I hadn’t ridden for a fortnight or so at that stage and still felt a little out of sorts. But the brilliant cold of Melbourne winter afternoon and the overall sense of feeling welcomed on the city road, or at least if not welcomed, not hated, made for an easy test run.

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In contrast to Sydney, Melbourne made space. The local councils of Sydney use a nasty trick. They paint bicycle figures on the shoulders of roads and then claim they have miles of cycling infrastructure. Mainly what they have given us is less than a metre of space between parked cars and traffic. As I so often experience, if I have to quickly move out of the way of a parked vehicle (when the door opens, or it decides to pull out of the space) I don’t have much room to avoid going into traffic, and motorists sure as hell aren’t going to give me the room if I need it. By contrast, Melbourne seems to build or plan actual space for cyclists. Sure, there are shared spaces, but they aren’t shared between parked cars, cyclists and traffic. The main street in the CBD accommodates cars, trams, pedestrians and cyclists – each having their own space.

With my legs and lungs assured that all good measures were in place, the next morning we set off towards the start of the Roobaix. This took me along another great stretch of Melbourne cycling infrastructure. The path along the Yarra was enjoyable, but the really impressive part was when the cycleway hooked itself under a freeway. Elevated above a city-riverbed and under the freeway, the section didn’t have any kind of footprint as such, but it provided a safe and fun means to follow the main traffic of the city. I love elevated shit like this!

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The latest starting time was 11am and we got there only just before, so we handily avoided the queue for registration. In fact, after registering what was about 2,000 cyclists, the officials had given up and just told us to go ride and have fun! The ride took us in a big arch from the eastern suburbs to the northern suburbs, through places I didn’t imagine even existed in Melbourne.

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There are three general types of people who seem to ride the Roobaix. The Lycra club. The gifted amateurs/hipsters. And the lunatics. The Lycra club are as one would imagine, expensive bikes and branded, padded lycra. That is definitely not me. The second group is just the people who like to cycle for fun, and that is my group. And then there are the lunatics, who may or may not also be members of the first two groups, but a defined by the desire to dress up and cycle.

 

An example of lunatics dressing up for Mario Kart. Other examples; a menagerie of superheroes, vikings, the aforementioned horse, vintage riders and Abba or Village People… people.

Young W, the sensible fellow he is, attributed to himself for sensible fashions.

The worst of the route, which you only discover upon arrival when you receive the map, is at the beginning. On the subject of the map, one of the joys of the day is that the route is not expressly mapped out for you. There are marked segments of cobblestones which you must (should)(maybe) complete, but the means between each is entirely up to yourself and or your co-cyclists.

The first thing you do is go up a hill. And then up a bigger hill. On a cold morning, the hill looks much worse than it feels and we all made it up without any difficulty.

But from then, the glorious largely flat lands of Melbourne are yours. The weather of the day, and entire weekend, was perfect. As clear as an azure sky of deepest winter. Melbourne suburbs though, beautiful yes, are all a little samey. This isn’t so much a complaint but a… well… I mean they are nice and all. But sometimes when everything is nice, it is less nice.

But maybe the problem is we didn’t go to Frankston.

The cobbles sections are fun, if not slightly unnerving for the first few hundred meters, particularly in the seemingly perceptual dampness of some of the tight alleyways. Particularly going down hill. Particularly when foolishly attempting to film video with one hand and ride with the other. I didn’t fall, but damn, hilarity nearly ensued.

At the end of second cobblestones we were rewarded with a beautiful view of the Melbourne skyline, which hadn’t ever really seemed that impressive to me until now.

In the first 15kms the group was largely bunched up, so there were a few traffic jams at choke points, usually the cobble sections, but also in this bushland area. Excellent opportunity to sign a song with a young woman dressed as a nun, so thought W.

The day progressed in a rather swimmingly fashion. The weather held. My legs felt amazing. Our bikes did not fail us.

This was not in the brochure!

A late lunch in Kensington.

The final destination, Brunswick Velodrome. A quick lap or two around to celebrate the achievement and then a tram back into town. We dropped our bikes off with 5 minutes to spare! Heroes all round.

And of course, Crazy Christian Cyclists!

And the team walked into the night, never to be heard of again.

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