Riding in Melbourne, mate!
story and photos by Greg Walker

 

Melbourne is situated at the top of, and spreads around Port Phillip Bay with hills to the east and north. The weather can be cold in winter (5 degrees Celcius in the mornings) to hot in summer (40 degrees with howling north wind days). Just about anything you want to do with your bike and friends can be accomplished within a short drive or ride in the suburbs; if you want to cruise and be seen go along Beach Road. Hill climbs? They range from rolling, to Mount Donna Buang at 1,000m where you can be sweating at the bottom and freezing at the top (it's 20 kilometres long at 6.7 % average gradient). Other higher or steeper hills can be had further out and mountain bike riders don't miss out either with lots of parks tracks and fire trails. Recently, the Australian downhill championships were held an hour from Melbourne.

What else? If you like track racing there are 5 aerodromes, two of them indoors. Family type cruising can be had just about anywhere - paved shared pedestrian/bike tracks go in all directions around Melbourne. Out of town the "rail trail" network consists of dis-used railway lines which have been taken up and gravel paths built - I kid you not. There are some stunning rides to be had on these paths, ranging from mountain forests to coastal vistas, and because of their previous use (as train networks) there are not too many hills either. However, as they are mostly not paved a road bike is certainly not recommended but anything else will do.

If you're a veteran and like to race, most "vets clubs" have a series of criteriums during the summer and 2-hour road races are not uncommon in winter (on Sundays). In the summer, daylight savings time give us the chance to race at night one day a week on a little used motor racing circuit not far from home, from "A" grade to "F" with staggered start finish times, and best of all, no car traffic! If you're not yet old and decrepit, there's a plethora of clubs and racing to be had, prize money on offer can be in the hundreds, and friends in the thousands.

The bike riding mecca in Melbourne is Beach Road and on weekend mornings from before daylight to 9.00am, bikes rule and outnumber cars in a big way. Many of the bunch riders enjoy this road which runs from Melbourne through St. Kilda where, follows the beach until Frankston and finally leads on to Portsea. On the Melbourne side of Mordy there are few traffic lights and small hills to drop your mates, after Mordy long flats to Frankston and then into hills again for 20 kilometres. Then it's flats again to Portsea for a return journey that can reach 200k's.

We have lots of bunch rides from fast to slow, from polite to crazy here are a few:

The North Road Bunch aka the "6 o'clock Bunch"

If you got time before work and don't mind getting up early this is the one for you, it leaves 6.00am corner of North Rd + Nepean Highway Gardenvale, out front of the Lonestar/Sizzler or whatever the restaurant is called at the moment. The bunch travels along Nepean Highway to Mordialloc roundabout and back up to Café Racer in St. Kilda. The distance is approximately 40km with Monday, Wednesday, and Friday being ridden at a recovery/slower pace getting back to Café Racer around 7.20 am. The perfect ride for those just getting started in racing. Tuesdays and Thursdays are fast days, arriving back around 6.55am. These two days are not for the faint hearted, it's quick and hard! Sometimes I leave early for work and jump on the back as it goes past. On a Friday where I had joined it had about 100 in the bunch.

Brumbys

Brumbys is another early morning ride, not as long as the North Road Bunch but can be a good calorie burn before work, it starts at Hampton goes to Mordy and back to Hampton - a good alternative if you haven't got time for the North Road ride. When I'm killing time near Mordy waiting for the North Road Bunch to come by, I sometime see this bunch but rarely jump on, it usually has from 20 to 50 on board.

The "KFC Bunch"

The KFC Bunch meets any Sunday mornings at the KFC on the corner of Princes Highway, Springvale Road and Police Road at 8.00am. The bunch heads down Springvale Road to our alternative meeting point on the corner of Edithvale Road and Station Street at around 8.30am. The bunch then rides down through Frankston, Mount Eliza and Mornington on Nepean Highway, before a left turn onto Bentons Road, across the Moorooduc Highway to Derril Road and a loop back into Frankston up the infamous Two Bays Road climb.

Most riders continue on to the Clock Tower at Black Rock at around 11:00am, where there's usually time for a coffee and a chat. Distance is around 100km.The ride is not a hammer session - in fact you may incur the wrath of the bunch if you drive too hard up Oliver's Hill or any other incline. There is also a compulsory break to wait for stragglers at the top of Two Bays Road. A good polite ride obeying the road rules, and if the bunch is split the front runners will wait for you. I've never been on this ride, though, as the start is a bit out of the way.

Hell Ride

The old favourite, this ride has been going for almost longer than most care to remember and is ….. the Biggest and Baddest. It has a bit of everything for everyone: flats, hills and even a bunch sprint. Winning this sprint gives you bragging rights for a week of the highest order! It leaves Black Rock clock tower on Beach Road at 7:00am on Saturday mornings. Travelling down to and around a circuit through Mount Eliza. Then back along Nepean Highway, onto Beach Road, and finishing back at the clock tower around 8:30am. In the warmer weather of the summer months a big number of riders, sometimes in excess of 100, charge down the road blocking the road completely where it narrows to one lane. As a result, angry car drivers are not uncommon.

The bunch can be long and if you're in the last half you may have to run a few red lights at over 40km/h to stay on. What a great way to start the weekend! Be warned, though, that the ride generally gets faster after Frankston and then again at Mordialloc for the dash home. The bunch is large and resembles a race, every year there are articles in the paper about problems this ride causes, meetings between police and interested parties to calm the pace and stop the red light running for a while, but pack mentality being what it is...... you should try to keep in the front half of the bunch to lessen your chances of breaking the law in the name of fitness.

Sometimes a police escort tails the bunch, which magically improves the road rules memory of all but often this splits the bunch and it can be hard to get back on. If you do get dropped, don't panic too much, just spin, recover and wait ........ it's coming back and the hell part will come up, before and after Mordy the pace goes up to and over 50km/h. After that and before the final sprint there are about 5 kilometres of small rolling hills to make things interesting. If you made it from the start all the way back to here without being dropped it official, YOU ARE FIT (and slightly crazy). The only huge bike stacks (accidents - Ed) I have ever seen have been on the telly ........ and on the hell ride .............. so be careful ......... but you gotta do it at least once!


You can see the peloton in the background and a police car in front (looks like a Ford, and check out funky graphics on the bonnet). You might think the patrol car is clearing the road ahead for the cyclists, but according to Greg, the cops are hanging around to book riders that beat the red lights!


The peloton passing by, and as you can see, it's a big one.

p/s I dropped into the bike shop this morning to check on some wheels and the topic of conversation turned to the hell ride - today saw a howling gale headwind on the way home, but apparently the speed was up to 55km/h into the wind up an incline coming up to the sprint!!!

Ain't life grand.

Greg

 

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