The Melburn-Roobaix

If, as the result of some bizarre gypsy curse, I was only able to watch one bike race per year- it would be the Paris-Roubaix. For the non-cycling tragics reading this, the Paris-Roubaix is a one-day 250km bike race through the Northern part of France. What sets is apart from so many other bike races are the numerous cobblestones sections. These cobblestones destroy bikes, they jar every bone in the riders bodies, in the wet they are slippery and treacherous…in the dry, the dust makes them slippery and treacherous.  It’s affectionately known as the ‘hell of the North’. To see what I’m talking about just type ‘Paris-Roubaix’ into YouTube…or look at the awesome photos from O’nev or Kristof Ramon

If, as a result of having 3 children and a complete lack of fitness, I could only do one bike ride per year- it would be the Melburn-Roobaix. The Melburn-Roobaix is the brain-child of the indefatigable Andy White. It’s a one day bike ride that varies from about 25kms to 40kms and meanders around Melbourne, taking in as many of cobblestone lane-ways as possible. At the end of each lane-way there is a question for you to answer. It’s sort of like the friendliest alley cat ever…but it’s not a race, it’s open to everyone…and it is the best fun you can have on a bike.

My initiation to the Melburn-Roobaix was 4 years ago when a friend invited me along. As a result of a technical issue, I completely missed the start and my friend headed off with the main group. So I was now doing a race that I had no idea about and no-one to talk to. I was about to just head home and chalk it up as a waste of a Sunday, when I recognised a guy who I had chatted to briefly on the ride to the start. We got chatting, and he introduced me to some other people and pretty soon I was racing around the streets of Nth. Melbourne with a variety of groups of people who clearly didn’t know where they were going…but were having a hell of a lot of fun getting there. We ran upstairs with our bikes, we rode alongside the drains, I watched a guy casually do a wheelie for about 4 minutes and I discovered numerous parts of Melbourne I had never seen before. Best of all I had the best fun I’d had in years.

I rode again the next year, and it was just as much fun. So the year after that I invited my best mate along and we hired some BikeShare bikes and did the ride on those. What the BikeShare bikes lacked in agility, handling, and lightweight materials…they more than made up for in overall indestructability. Yes it was like riding an armchair…but it was someone else’s armchair..and the wheels weren’t going cost you $500 if they were damaged.

This year, my 6 yr old son came with me. I was a little nervous about how he would find riding with so many people, riding such a long distance and of course riding on the cobblestones. But those fears were unfounded. While we didn’t do the full 38km (I’ll leave the Koppenberg for him to discover next year), we had an absolutely brilliant time…and I look forward to Josh repeating Stuey O’Grady’s heroics in the 2007 Paris-Roubaix sometime. But the best part of the whole day was how many people took the time to tell him how well he was doing, and what a great effort it was to be doing the ride. He spent the whole afternoon after the race feeling 10ft tall and bullet proof and perhaps more importantly he went to sleep early (tired but happy).

For him the idea of a group of people getting together to just have fun, probably isn’t that foreign…kids do it all the time. But as we get older, we tend to look for the competitive side of things instead of working together for no reward other than fun, we don’t want to spend a day chatting to random strangers because frankly that’s just weird, we don’t want to spend hours with people dressed as ninjas or riding unicycles…because…well…they’re dressed as ninjas or riding unicycles. Most importantly in a world where we can ride road bikes, mountain bikes, fixies, single speeds, BMXs and cruisers. And where we can spend as much money on a bike as we would on a small car…we can forget why we love riding in the first place…because IT’S FUN! The Melburn-Roobaix is my annual reminder of just how rewarding life can be if we get together with a group of people with the sole purpose of having fun. That’s why I hope to be doing it for many years to come.

I’d like to say a massive thanks to Andy for organising the ride. I shudder to think how much time and effort goes into putting it all together, but I hope he gets as much out of it as we all do.
If you’re interested in doing the ride next year then head to Fxyomatosis and entertain yourself with great stories and photos until registration for next year’s ride opens…and then hopefully I’ll see you for ‘the Hell of the Northcote’!

See a few of my photos from the day here


There are some addictions that I won’t admit to publicly, and there are some that I won’t even admit to myself…but I wear my coffee addiction like a badge of honour. I love it. I make myself a coffee everyday before I ride to work, and yet every time I pass someone drinking a coffee on the way to work, I think ‘Man, a coffee would be so good right now!’, despite having had one no more than 10 minutes ago.
What’s more, I have added insult to injury by becoming a ‘coffee snob’. I’ve walked out of cafes when I saw they way they were making other people’s coffees…I’ve walked right past cafe’s because a cursory glance at the coffees being drunk by people at the tables outside didn’t look like they would make the grade…I have even asked the person making my coffee in small town in the Mallee if they would mind if I came behind the counter and made the coffee myself!
This is not socially acceptable behaviour! I would never walk into a Thai restaurant, order my Pad Thai and then stroll into the kitchen telling the chef “I’d use a bit more fish sauce. Actually, step back from the wok…I’ll take it from here.” But such is the power of coffee that I will transgress social norms just to ensure that I get a good coffee.

Now the purpose of this blog is not to tell you what makes a perfect coffee, or where to go for the best coffee (although I will be dropping some pretty blatant hints about both of these) because, like many of the finer things in life, a ‘good coffee’ is a very subjective thing. Some people like it weak, some people like it strong, some people like it scalding hot and some people like soy milk. So instead of telling you the coffee you should like, I’m going to tell you some of the things I’ve learned over my 20 year coffee drinking career.

How to find a good coffee
OK, look around. Are you in Melbourne? If ‘yes’, then you should be fine. Just walk into any non-franchise coffee emporium and order your coffee with confidence. If ‘no’, then I’m afraid you have your work cut out for you, but here are some key pointers:
– If they are offering ‘Mugachinos’, run
– If they start heating the milk, and then walk away to serve another customer, you are doomed
– Don’t get too picky with your order. Yes you may like a 3/4 latte with 1/2 a sugar, but order that and at best you are going to get some horrific fraction based version of a coffee (I’m talking to you Geelong!)…or at worst you are going to get a withering sigh from an elderly woman who really doesn’t have time for this crap (hello Numurkah), or the distinct impression everyone else in the shop now wants to kill you (hello Rainbow/Orbost/Waragul).

All you need is love
A passionate barista who doesn’t have the best materials, but is determined to make you a great coffee, is going to do a hell of a lot better job than someone with the best equipment who just doesn’t give a damn.
Fortunately, there are plenty of places with great coffee, great people and great equipment. If you are ever in Melbourne, then you need to go to:
65 Degrees
The League of Honest Coffee
Manchester Press
Because these people love their coffee, and the lines of people waiting to order show that people love their coffee too!

Get a coffee machine
Some people frivolously wasted their baby bonus on plasma TV’s, and those people are clearly not fit to be parents. We on the other hand purchased a coffee machine and grinder. Now before those of you without young children get all angry and say that we were being selfish, think about this- by purchasing the machine and therefore having our coffees at home, we were no longer cluttering up your local cafe with prams and screaming children, leaving you to read the newspaper/pretentiously work on your laptop/nurse a hangover in peace…so we were basically providing a community service!
We got a Rancilio Silvia machine and a Rocky Grinder for about $1,100. For over four years they have made at least two coffees everyday and have not missed a beat.
Also, the cred attached to saying ‘No I don’t need the beans ground…I have my own grinder at home’, is pretty much the same as introducing yourself as a Formula 1 driver.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times
I have had some truly memorable coffees; a coffee with lots of cardamon in Sharjah, my first ever espresso coffee at a little cafe in Kew that was the only place that would let my friends smoke in there before school, and any coffee that provided respite during a freezing cold bike ride. But if I know my audience, you don’t want to hear about the good times…you want to hear about those moments that make you glad that you are you…and I am me.
So let us cast our minds back 4 years to our family holiday to WA. We had a toddler and a baby in the car and we were driving from Margaret River to Pemberton (about 4 hour drive). We had decided not to get a coffee in Margaret River, and instead find somewhere along the way so we could break up the trip. In Victoria, as you travel through the countryside you can usually find somewhere that offers a serviceable coffee, but after 2 hours of driving (and the dull thud of caffeine withdrawal starting to emminate from the back of my skull) we finally made the executive decision to go to a McCafe. The logic was that it wouldn’t be a 10/10 coffee…but it would be a dependable 7/10 and that was all we needed. So I parked the car and went in and ordered two lattes. The girl behind the counter went to grab the percolated coffee. I said ‘No, no…I’d like them from the machine’. After a lot of huffing, the girl went over and put the steam wand into the milk to warm it up…then went of to serve someone else. By the time she returned the jug was glowing red hot…and I think I was weeping a little. She then made the espresso and walked away again (clearly the burnt milk would balance out the lukewarm espresso). She then came back and filled the cups to the absolute brim with scalding hot coffee, and I walked back to the car doing that thing where the cup is so hot that you have to rotate which fingers are doing most of the holding for fear of burning them. When I got back to the car I discovered that our baby needed a nappy change and was screaming about the fact that this was happening…at the same time our toddler was trying to drown out the cries of our baby by screaming louder…causing the baby to cry even louder. In a state of zen like calm that can only be achieved by a true addict, I was in the process of removing the lids from the coffees and adding the sugar. The first coffee was fine and I had put it in the cup holder for my wife, and having added the sugar to my coffee I was replacing the lid when I somehow pushed down to hard and tipped the contents of the cup all over my lap.
I’m not 100% sure what happened next, but I do remember both children suddenly going quiet…and my wife hurriedly saying ‘You can have my one!’
Within about 30 seconds the coffee in my lap had gone from scalding hot to tepid and clammy…and thus began one of the least comfortable drives of my life.

But for all that I still come back to coffee as the perfect start to my day, the best way to reward myself and my happiest vice. But anything that gives so much and takes so little must have some sort of horrible secret, and when in 20 years time people look back at the way we drank coffee with much the same horror as we look at the smoking in Mad Men and say ‘But didn’t they realise how much damage they were doing to themselves?!’ I’ll just smile and say ‘It was worth it!’




If, like me, you’ve watched a lot of Grand Designs, you know that in order to renovate your house you need to go through some hardship, but then 42 TV minutes later you will have Kevin McLeod wandering through your house admitting that it has all worked out quite well…despite his reservations. Although if you’re watching the Australian version, you will know that a renovation involves 42 minutes of people so excruciatingly smug and self-obsessed that you want to throw something at the TV.
Well we are now 2 years into our renovation, and we still haven’t actually done a single thing to the house…so Now I’m No Expert, But here’s some key questions to ask yourself if you’re thinking of renovating.

1. Do you have money?
Good. Now double it. OK, now we’re talking. This is probably the most amount of money you have ever spent. Now prepare to have this amount of money laughed at by everyone from the Architect, to the builder, to any other person looking to take this money from you.
At the same time, expect the bank and anyone else you talk to, to reel in horror at this amount and make comments like ‘What are you building, a MANSION?!’

2. Do you have children?
If yes, then clearly you lied when you answered the first question.
This is the renovation paradox, you renovate because you need more space for the kids…but if you have kids the bank won’t lend you money. Here is an example of a recent conversation with the bank we currently have our loan with:
Me: Hello, I’d like to borrow some money.
Bank: Do you have a loan with us?
Me: Yes
Bank: Let’s see, ah yes here are your details. Based on this we could lend you approximately eleventy billion dollars. When can you and your wife come in to sign the paperwork?
Me: Well my wife’s at home with our kids, so we’ll have to…
Bank: Sorry, your what?!
Me: Our kids.
Bank: You have kids?! How many?
Me: Three.
Bank: Oh…in that case we can lend you…negative $12,000.
Me: Done…I’ll bring the money in shortly.

3. Do you have time?
We started this whole thing because we thought we might have a third child some day…and if we did we would need the space. If we didn’t we could have a room for piano teaching/ video editing.
Then we became pregnant, and we were thinking ‘I hope we’ve moved back in before the baby comes’.
Then it became ‘I can’t believe we wont be living in our house when the baby comes’.
Then ‘Oh my God we’re going to be living in my parent’s house with a newborn!’
Now it’s pretty much ‘I sure hope we can celebrate the baby’s 18th birthday in our new house!’

4. Are you going to go over budget?
In my version of the ‘Grand Designs drinking game’ you get to drink each time someone:
A) goes over budget,
B) decides to project manage the whole thing themselves (their job in IT is pretty much the same anyway), or
C) or reveals that they are expecting a baby.

I guarantee that you will be drunk by the halfway mark of the show…and why?

A) Because everything costs so much that things inevitably go over budget,
B) so you try to find things you can do yourself to save money,
C) and you can’t afford to go out anymore so you have to find things to do at home to entertain yourselves…next thing you know you’re pregnant.

So far the exclusions on our job include a roof, the floor, the painting, the deck and the cabinetry…take out the walls as well and we no longer have a house!

5. Why are we doing this?
Good question. Considering all of the grief we have gone through over the last two years on this, and this is before we have to pack up and move out, and before we have to decide if we want to rent locally or live with my parents, and before we discover that our house is built on an ancient burial ground/fault line. The answer is; it’s better than the alternatives. In our case the alternatives are to just patch things up around the house and hope that Josh feels ready to move out of home when he’s 8. Or to sell the house and buy somewhere that already has what we want. But the real estate reality is that if you want more than you have, then you have to move further out. Seeing as we feel very much part of the local community we don’t really want to have to do this. Even if we do choose to move, we’re probably going to have just as many problems borrowing money.

On the positive side, if everything goes to plan, we will have an amazing house that we can live in for the rest of our lives. What’s more it will be a home that we feel is truly ours.
Which is good…because at this rate we won’t be able to afford to leave it for a looong time.