Eight years ago I received a message from a good mate telling me I was going on a ride with him tomorrow. I knew of the Paris-Roobaix, the most taxing and feared of the one-day classics on the cycling calendar. He said it’s like that, but fun. I’m not always sure if his definition of fun is the same as mine, so it was with some trepidation that I rolled out with him that morning – and that evening over a beer I think it was the best day on a bicycle I’d ever had.
Andy White is one of the most approachable guys you’ll ever come across, and he also has quasi-legendary status with many of the bike riders in Melbourne, or Melburn as he spells it. (For those of you from elsewhere, that’s a lot closer to how we say it – either that or Melb’n). He’s been a graphic artist, a bike messenger in many countries, a photographer, blogger (as Fyxomatosis) and recently, just Fyxo – and it’s this side of him with his courier mates that had the genesis of the Melburn-Roobaix. He thought he’d pay homage to the Paris-Roubaix by running his own, in and around the cobblestone alleyways in his home town. It was a success. He ran it the next year, and it was massive. The next year, even bigger. So now, in addition to refurbishing classic bikes and components, and selling his merchandise, the Roobaix is pretty-much his and his wife’s life.
I’ve done it on many and various bikes, but 2 years ago I did it on a Brompton. I wasn’t surprised with how well the Brommie performed – what did surprise me was how accommodating it was – I didn’t quite feel fresh afterwards, but I felt fresher than I had on any other bike.
So, it was without reservation that I suggested members of MBC may like to give it a go this year. I’d certainly seen other Bromptons each year – and the crew from Cheeky Transport have come down from Sydney – so I thought we could get a crew going.
Tickets can be purchased online on a key date, but historically the demand is so huge it crashes the system, so Andy does offer a small number for sale in person the weekend before so thanks to Dayna to getting on down to do the purchasing. The leadup to the big day had much miserable cold and wet weather, but the day itself had clear skies – with even colder temperatures.
We decided to meet up at Fed Square and roll down the Yarra to get to the start venue – indeed, I was asked where Hawthorn Velodrome was the day before and I don’t actually know – but I know how to ride there. The registration didn’t take long – but that’s probably because most already had gone through. That was good, it gives you plenty of people to follow, but it also has drawbacks which you’ll read later.
We had previously met Joakim at #BUCMEL and he flew down from Sydney to join our crew and Andy’s route did its best to show off Melbourne isn’t as flat as its made out. The first sector was a little further away than in previous years. You can navigate your own route from sector to sector, but we pretty-much just followed the herd, hopeful we hadn’t missed it.
After a ride through a small suburban park, there it was. Plenty of people were stopping to regroup, or to take in the enormity of what they’d set themselves. For me, it was a quick pic, and then into it. For those who are unaware, the trick is to keep your weight quite light on your bars, and certainly don’t grip too tight. Speed is your friend as you can bounce over the cobbles instead of hitting each one. Finally, the Brompton’s rear suspension can do wonders in taking the sting out of a lot of the bumps, but being out of the saddle at times can be beneficial, as you can imagine.
Instead of heading into the city, we headed away, alongside the Eastern Freeway to descend towards the river and quite a long stretch of dirt track. Now, we started a little bit later than most so by the time we rode, it was well and truly chewed up. It’s the first time I can remember using my snow/ice driving skills on my Brompton (no sudden acceleration/deceleration, easy turning) but it worked a treat. Again, the long wheelbase makes all the difference. We happened across a small pump track and many were doing a lap or two before continuing on.
Coming back out from the valley, it was steep into Ivanhoe. There was an initial ascent from a car park (pictured here) and then a pedestrian route which provided the toughest climb of the day. At its base I was hanging back to get a bit of a run up to it, but others were rounding me to the get off their bikes and trudge up, so I yelled “stay left, I’m on your right” and just went for it. A few more “On your right”s and by that stage most had got the drift and were doing the work for me. Did I make it? Well, I’d love to say I did but right at the very top I had to duck around someone a little further to the right and clipped my pedal on the gutter and I stopped about 2 metres short of the road.
It was around lunchtime, and we were long-overdue for a coffee so we grabbed the nearest cafe. I won’t besmirch the cafe in question but I will say it needs more sisters as it was over an hour before we got rolling again. Thankfully, (for me) this was a little more familiar territory and I although we needed to keep looking at the map to see where the sectors were, I could navigate around pretty easily.
One of the sponsors was Temple beer so it was a given we were going to go there – and the fact that a sector finished at their rear entrance sealed it. We answered the question, entered the raffle and grabbed a beer. A that time, I took a look at the time and did a quick mental calculation. We were going to struggle to complete the rest of the sectors before the finish started at 3:30. So, what was it, leave and significantly pick up the pace, or stay for another beer and miss the most westerly sector (and probably the steepest/gnarliest one). No-one was prepared to call it, so a coin flip came up beer. (I think secretly everyone was pretty happy about that).
The rest of the sectors and navigation was largely uneventful, and we rolled into Roobaix (this year, alongside the Harrison St Velodrome) just a few minutes late. Unfortunately, too late for most of our number to submit their manifest and get the free Velo USB Rear Light gift.
Still – a great time and most of us are looking forward to next year! (more pix below).