Sunday, June 26, 2011

Melburn Roobaix - Welcome to Hell

The annual Melburn Roobaix ride is one of my favourites. And if the sellout crowd of 1000 is any indication, it is a fave with lots of others too. It is not a race; and is much less a cycling event than a social gathering on bikes. And for a city with a rapidly growing bike culture it is an ride that fits the bill perfectly. It is loosely modelled on the famous Spring Classic, the "Paris-Roubaix," which has road sections interspersed with 'sectors' of 'pave' or cobblestones before finishing with a lap of a velodrome. Unlike Paris-Roubaix, the 'Roobaix' follows a different course each year and apart from the finish at Brunswick Velodrome, the course is a secret until the day. Heck, even the start location isn't published till the week before!

This year was the third time I have taken part and we were once again blessed with good weather (though some would argue that this is an event meant for the Belgian-style hard men who only come out if there is a chance of sleet). But we did have a reasonable amount of wind; and rain in the days prior made small lakes in some of the cobblestone lanes we'd ride over. So it was all easy going.

I met my friends Ben and David at the start point just after 10am where we signed in, picked up our map and musette and watched the crowd stream by as they began. We saw guys dressed as French bakers (complete with bread sticks), a fellow in a suit looking like he was just about to ride to work, people in jeans on fixies trying to look cool and hip (but being totally out-cooled in this crowd), a dude with a huge boom-box on his bike belting out the hits, couples on tandems, kids being towed by parents, Boba Fett (I kid you not, complete with helmet!). You name it, we saw it.

Oh, yes, and there was this cat-guy-thing (see pic). As you can see, he had a skin tight catsuit - complete with ears and mask - stilettos, red nail polish and a bike with a sticker touting "one less fixie." As far as I could figure out he was riding by himself. But maybe not! On any other day the object of ridicule and derision, here he was just one of the crowd and no big deal. The crazier the better at this event. And he was certainly right up there. As for us, we were boringly clad in regular cycling gear - gasp, lycra!

We headed off at around 10.30am to begin our odyssey. 40-odd kilometres and a dozen cobblestones sectors to go! The map you are given shows the location of the cobblestone sectors but leaves the navigation between those up to you. So a large part of the event is getting from one to the next. This is something I love doing and I end up playing the role of domestique, leading my mates (and a bunch of others) around the countryside. Most often we get there as planned but reading maps, taking photos and riding a bike in traffic are not three things you'd normally do all at once, so occasionally we'd end up a little off course and need to reset ourselves. All the more fun. This year the organiser incorporated a lot more bike paths into the (obvious) route between sectors,showcasing what a wonderful network of off-road trails we have here in Melbourne. There were certainly lots of places I've never seen before.

But the real fun is on the cobbles and it was on these sections that the biggest smiles came out. For those not used to this it can be a bit of a shock. The stones really do give man and machine a pounding. More than one water bottle, cage, spares or computer were jettisoned along these bits; especially for those who go the harder option and ride a bike with narrow road tyres (for the record, not me). These are not smooth cobbles, these are rough patchwork quilts of things with mortared gaps if you are lucky and gaping holes if you are not. They are an insight into how Melbourne's suburbs were established a hundred years ago; with a network of access lanes behind houses for night carts and men delivering firewood. It is amazing how many of these have actually survived, these days used as access into backyards and shortcuts between streets.

Ben, David and myself were cruising along beautifully, having completed seven sectors and were making our way along the storm-drain beside the Citylink tollway (doing our own impressions of the great drag race scene from Grease) when disaster struck. Ben was riding a beautiful Boardman produced cyclocross bike with tubulars (fine Czech-made ones he tells me) and one of them partially rolled off the rim, bringing him to sudden stop. Apart from the massive flat-spot on the tyre where it had dragged along the ground there was no great damage (except to Ben's confidence) so we were able to refix the tyre and get going again. But Ben was never the same. (I guess living in fear of a major crash will do that to you!)

Two and a quarter hours after starting we turned off the final cobblestone sector and headed into the Brunswick Velodrome for our victory lap. Under blue sky and with sun shining we completed the course - 39km of (almost) hell. Heck, I dunno what those pros complain about!

1 comment:

  1. So there is a hell in the south? On all my visits to Melbourne it's been beautiful! Your mates on the mountain bikes are a bit soft. The guy in stilettos is plain crazy!


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