Sunday, January 19, 2014

Melbourne Road Bike Tour

It’s 5:58 am and I’m pedalling towards a twinkling cluster of red lights stopped in the distance, like an almond-shaped Christmas tree on its side. I arrive at the back of the group, and in the brightening twilight I see about 60 riders, some in green/yellow Australian national team kit – possibly here for a cool-down ride from road nationals the day before in nearby Ballarat. The forecast high for today is 41 C, so any long rides would need to start now.

A few of the riders look curiously at me in my team skinsuit and my rented road bike festooned with more wheel and frame reflectors than a kid’s bike from Canadian Tire. I ask the guy beside me how long the ride is today. He’s distracted and vaguely irritated, like someone trying to concentrate before the start of a big race. Then I realize nobody else is talking - no idle chit-chat. These guys are here to ride.


I look at my watch: 5:59 am. A few moments later, somebody’s watch alarm goes off - and like a race start whistle - everybody clips in. No waiting for stragglers in this group. The pace ramps smoothly until I feel like I am hitting the red zone. I look down: 49 km/h on level ground with no wind. It was my worst nightmare come true – I was riding with 60 other Trev Williams’s.

The initial section of the route takes us South from Melbourne on the Nepean Highway, a major artery complete with traffic lights and intersections, similar to Macleod Trail in Calgary. At this time of day there is little traffic in our direction, as the bulk of the traffic is heading North towards Melbourne. We approach a traffic light and it turns yellow. Several riders yell “rolling!” and we continue through, at nearly the posted speed limit.

At the next intersection, one of the front riders barks “Light!” as it turns yellow within 20 metres of our approach. I tense up and grab my brakes to avoid colliding with the rider stopping in front of me, instinctively squeezing harder with my left hand for maximum stopping power. My rear wheel locks up and squirms, because of course the front and rear hand brakes are reversed in Australia. After that event, riders leave a bit more space around me.

After only 10 minutes (and already 8 km) in the red zone, I start fading to the back of the group, and then I was alone. But that’s ok, because I soon find out that there are literally *thousands* of riders out every morning, so you will always find a group riding at your speed.

I reach the turnaround point at Mordialloc, and continue back North to Melbourne on Beach Road. Beach road, as the name suggests, follows the beachline with breathtaking ocean views. It has fewer traffic lights and has good pavement, but it does have a number of parked cars, pedestrians crossing over to the beach, and curb bulbs. As I travel north, I see countless groups of riders heading south in the other direction. Some are tightly-formed teams of 20-50 riders in full matching team kit, while others are a mix of teams like the group I’m riding back with. Got tri bars? No problem. I saw groups of 10-15 riders with tri bars riding together like they were pros. Actually... they probably *were* pros.

The entire scene is hard to comprehend. Imagine all of Canada’s road bike riders, on one road from 6 to 8 am, every day of the week. The entire left lane (curb lane) of the road in both directions is completely occupied with groups of riders like it was a tightly-bunched road race, except it’s not a road race – just a normal weekday morning with rush hour traffic.

It's ok to ride 2-up in Australia, but you can't turn on a red light. Riders actually follow the rules of the road here.


Having so many riders clog the roads has certain side effects. You don’t wave at passing riders like you do in Canada. That would be like being in a car and waving at other motorists. Also, don’t expect people to ask you if you need help. After I double-flatted on some broken glass, replaced my front tube and rode nearly 10 km to the nearest bike shop on my flatted rear aluminum rim (it’s a rental bike) in the rising 36 C heat, nobody – not one person – asked if I needed help. If you need help, you gotta ask for it.

After spending a week in Melbourne, it’s no surprise why Australia cranks out so many good road riders. If you get a chance, you should really check it out.

1 comment:

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