Passing the baton

If there’s been a non-selfish reason for trying to stay fit in my 40’s, it’s been to be able to train with my kids if they ever set their sights on some sort of foolish physical endeavour. I mean, what sort of teenager doesn’t want to push the limits of their physical endurance, while also listening to their Dad bang on about past glories?

Basically I would be part Yoda and part Mr. Miyagi (from Karate Kid), passing on sage advice, and talking in a way that becomes less cute and endearing the more I speak.
In this fantasy, I was the one providing the slipstream on the bike when they were tired, or pacing them through a long run…or looking more appetising to sharks on an open water swim. There may come a time when I realised that I had done such a good job that they were actually better than me…but this would be years down the track, and would of course be a moment of celebration and magnanime.

So about a year ago Josh started getting passionate about cycling. Pretty soon he was doing rides of over 100kms, then he had a better bike than me…then he RODE TO SANDY POINT! (which is a ride I had always written off as being too tough). So I felt that it was time for the wise sensei to step in and arrange for us to do our first organised ride together.

Josh at the end of his ride from Preston to Sandy Point…over 200kms!

The Giro Della Donna

The ride I chose was the Giro Della Donna, which is a 125km ride that features a climb up Mt Donna Buang. I chose this ride because:

a) I’d done it before, so could pass on some information (or keep it to myself if I was feeling petty)
b) The people who do the ride are a great group of people, so Josh would feel supported as he tried desperately to stay on my wheel as we did the final mountain climb
c) The ride is primarily uphill…and while I don’t have a ‘strength’ in cycling, going uphill is certainly my ‘least weakness’

So we signed up and I set about finding reasons why I couldn’t train (moving out of home while our kitchen was being renovated was a brilliant first step). After all, my one abiding memory of the first time I did this ride was thinking ‘the next time I do this, I’m not going to come in underdone’, and I have no intention of learning from my mistakes.


The first proper training ride we did was an 80km ride from Mount Martha to Ivanhoe. Pretty much straight out of the gate I realised that not only was Josh much stronger on the flat sections, but he also had my measure on the climbs, and was fearless on the descents. Instead of me taking the lead and him sitting on my wheel, I found myself tucked in behind him for large sections of the ride.
But I still had an ace up my sleeve. Years of riding long distances had taught me how to conserve energy, and so when we came to the final hill, I knew I would be able to jump out of the saddle and show that this old dog still had a bit left in him.
We hit the final hill and Josh effortlessly left me for dead on the climb, in a way that could only have been more devastating if I had actually gone backwards down the hill as he accelerated away.
I was starting to wonder if there was a scene I had missed in Karate Kid where Daniel beat the living crap out of Mr Miyagi.

The look on Josh’s face any time I tried to roll to the front.

We then did a training ride up to Kinglake. Perhaps a long sustained climb would be where my Cadel Evans diesel engine would show up his Tadej Pogacar youthful enthusiasm.


Instead Josh headed off up the climb and offered to circle back when he passed me on the descent to do the rest of the climb with me.
Fortunately, I wasn’t so far behind him that this was necessary. But I was starting to re-evaluate just how much ‘support’ I was going to be for Josh for the big ride.

Always pause any bike ride to get a photo of hot air balloons (and to take a rest)

On our final training ride I ended up breaking a spoke and limping home on a very wobbly back wheel that needed to be replaced. In terms of metaphorical portents…the wheels quite literally falling off…seemed a little on the nose.

But at the same time, Josh and I had enjoyed some great rides together, we had seen early morning hot-air balloons sailing over the Eastern Freeway, and I had finally gone for some rides that weren’t just me sitting on the trainer watching episodes of ‘F1 – Drive to survive’ on the iPad.

The ride itself

By the time the ride came around, I knew that I simply didn’t have the legs to keep up with Josh. So I was left with three choices:

a) asking Josh to ride with me for the first 90kms and then let him do the gravel section and climb up Mount Donna Buang by himself
b) try desperately to stay with Josh for as long as possible and then just hope I still had the stamina to finish the ride when he disappeared into the distance.
c) let Josh do his own ride, and pass the baton to the new generation.

I initially went with option ‘a’, as when I did the ride last time there was a photo booth at the top of the climb and I really wanted to get a shot of us together…but didn’t want him to freeze to death waiting for me…and I figured at best he would be 20mins ahead of me by the end of the gravel and climb. So this would be a good compromise of riding together, and him getting to challenge himself.

But, if you’re hoping for one of those inspirational stories where the wiley old fox actually has an amazing day and rides with the young pup the whole way…this is not one of those stories.

Just 10kms into the ride, Josh very politely told me that it ‘might be hard for us to stick together’. I agreed and looked for a metaphorical baton to pass on to him…but when I looked back, he was already about 200m ahead of me…and by the time I reached the climb up Donna Buang about 4 hours later, he was just about at the finish line.

Feared pirate ‘Captain Mistbeard’ finds it just a little cold and wet at the top of Donna Buang

So what does it mean?

Well, the fragile middle-aged man in me wants to say ‘He beat me by nearly 2 hours!’ But that’s a pretty shitty perspective. The truth of the matter is, we’ve found a passion that we share. As a result of that, we got to head out on bikes and spend hours exploring Victoria together. And when it came to the actual ride, I was humble enough to realise that he was fitter and stronger than me…and he was polite enough to wait for me at the finish and cheer me on!
The COVID-19 lockdowns may have robbed me of the few months when I was going to be stronger than Josh on the bike, but they also brought us a lot closer together as people.

I don’t know if it’s irony or serendipity, but the part of the ride that I had resigned myself to be riding alone for (the gravel section along the Acheron Way and the climb up Donna Buang), were actually the best parts of the ride for me! I got to meet Simon Gerrans. I rode the entire gravel section with two other guys, and we chatted the whole time…and then I got chatting to someone else on the climb up Mt Donna Buang. None of us were never going to light-up the leaderboard, or be smashing out massive watts that we could gloat over on Strava. We were just gentlemen of a certain age, riding bikes and enjoying each other’s company.

Winning KOMs, and pulling heroic turns on the front of the group…is a young man’s game.
Trying to relive past glories is a recipe for disaster.
Riding a bike should be fun
– Chris Riordan, 2022

So whatever cycling baton I have, I pass to Josh and his generation.
Cycling is a lot like life; you get out of it what you put in…and I can see how much effort he’s putting in.
I’m just glad to be along for the ride!

For the record, yes, I was standing in a large hole, and that’s why Josh is so much taller than me!

Peaks Challenge 2017

As discussed in my previous blog, I really hadn’t done enough training for the Peak’s Challenge Falls Creek (aka ‘the 3 Peaks’). But was I going to let a woefully inadequate training load stop me from attempting this? Hell no! After all, how bad can 13 hours on a bike be?
Well…I think that when ‘How bad can 13 hours on the bike be?’ is a question you are legitimately asking yourself…then perhaps your state of mind isn’t all that flash to start with, and perhaps it would be a good time to start questioning the decisions you’re making. Of course, I know this in hindsight…because I now know exactly how bad 13 hours on the bike can be. But I also know just how much of a difference the people you meet along the way can make. So without further ado, here is my race report for the Peak’s Challenge 2017

Checking in the day before

A bit of background

Just in case you haven’t read the previous blog, here’s the background:

  • The Peak’s Challenge is a 235km bike ride through the mountains in the Victorian Alps
  • I signed up for this last year as the final part of deal with my coach and friend Craig Percival. He was going to coach me for the ride, but tragically passed away in December of last year
  • I have done a lot of training on an indoor trainer…but not nearly enough out in the real world
  • My ride plan is to avoid getting caught up in groups that are riding too fast for me, working with people when I can so that I don’t exhaust myself riding solo…and then hope like hell that my legs will get me up that final climb.
  • I ultimately just want to finish the ride, but if I can finish inside 13 hours, then I am deemed an ‘official finisher’.

Falls Creek to Harrietville

This was actually pretty cruisey. I ticked off one of my goals by not crashing on either the descent from Falls Creek to Mt. Beauty, or from Tawonga Gap to German Town (nothing says success quite like binning it 20mins into a 13 hour ride!) A small part of this success my have come from me noticing that I had put my front wheel on the wrong way round and having to change it about 2 minutes before the start.

Waiting to start…in about 5 mins I would realise that I had my front wheel on the wrong way around…je suis une genius.

Towards the end of the descent from Towanga I got into a group of 5 who were setting a pretty good pace. As we hit German Town, they wound up the pace a bit and suddenly I was sitting just outside of comfort zone. I sat with them for about 5kms, but knew that this was exactly the mistake I had made so many times before…sticking with a group, but burning more energy that I could afford given there was over 180kms and two mountains to go. I also knew that I had been sitting on the wheels of the other 4 guys for the duration, and that slipping off the back without pulling a turn would be pretty poor form. So I rolled to the front and did about 1.5kms. If sitting in the group was on the limit of what I could sustain, then sitting out the front in whatever wind there was, was definitely beyond what I should have been doing. But up ahead I could see a larger group that were clearly travelling slower. So I decided to hold on with the group I was with, in the hope that we would catch the next group. We did, and thankfully they were sitting at a pace that let me recover all the way into Harrietville.
I pulled into Harrietville, had something to eat and drink, and then headed back out onto the road, all within the time limit I would need to adhere to if I wanted to finish in 13 hours

Harrietville – Dinner Plain

Pretty much straight out of Harrietville we hit Mount Hotham, and the climbing began in earnest. I’ve never climbed Mt Hotham before, and all I’ll say is it’s about 20kms of tolerable climbing…and then about 10kms of ‘when the hell does this finish?!’ Every time I thought the summit would be just around the corner…it wasn’t…and in its place was a snaking line of cyclist disappearing into the distance.

But once I hit the summit I began the rolling descent to Dinner Plain. As I was to find out over the rest of the day, a rolling descent means that there is just enough time spent going downhill to technically be getting closer to sea level, but there still feels like there is a lot of going uphill as well. I pulled into the lunch stop about 7 minutes down on where I needed to be, but I figured if I could just keep my lunch stop to about 10 minutes, then I would still be back on the road in time to achieve the 13 hour mark.

Dinner Plain – Omeo

This was tough. We had a bit of tailwind, which was really nice, but it was hot. I started to get ‘hot spots’ on my left foot, and so loosened my shoe as much as I could. But it was the element of the unknown that was the hardest to deal with. When I was climbing Mt. Hotham, even though I didn’t know the climb, I knew I would be climbing, and so I was resigned to that, with any downhill sections a bonus. But for this part of the I just didn’t know what was coming, and every small hill felt like a slap in the face.
Then as we made the final turn into Omeo there was a literal slap in the face, with the change in direction turning a crosswind/tailwind into a headwind. I pulled into Omeo knowing that I had lost time, but figured if I could just get some food into me and have a quick rest, then I would be able to tackle the 40kms to Angler’s Rest. But no sooner had I filled up my drink bottle, than the guys manning the aid station said ‘You’ve got another 10 mins’ and then we close. On cue the Lanterne-Rouge (the last two riders) arrived, and I suddenly realised how close I was to having to retire from the ride (if you fall behind the Lanterne-Rouge riders then you have to retire).
So I hastily jumped back on the bike, and headed off into the headwind and unknown.

Omeo – Angler’s Rest

Shit got real. The wind was hot and in your face. The road was unrelenting, and my confidence was shot knowing how close I was to the cut-off. I found two other guys who were riding a bit faster than I was and asked if they wanted to roll some turns. They were up for it and so we just rotated turns, with one guy sitting in the wind, while the other two tucked in behind him. I know that I wasn’t really pulling my weight, and so when they started to drop me I just fell back. They looked back at one stage and started to slow down, but I waved them on. I was done. I knew that there was no way I was going to do 13 hours…and in reality, there was no way I was going make it to the climb up Falls Creek. Which actually really pissed me off, because I knew that I could make up some time on that final climb. I’m not a strong rider, but I’m a pretty good climber. Now I wasn’t even going to pit myself against the climb because I wasn’t going to make the cutoff at Angler’s Rest.

It’s a funny thing with these sorts of events. Ultimately I do them because I want to see how I respond to that moment of absolute despondence. When I think I can’t go on because it’s all too hard. In that moment of darkness, how will I respond? But the simple truth is, it’s not a single moment. It’s a series of moments. In this case it was about and hour and a half of moments where I just had to keep pedalling. I knew that I was cooked. But there had been 3 ambulances go past on this section of road alone, so I was still having a better day than some others. I decided that I wasn’t going to retire from the race until I was asked to. So I would ride on for as long as I could. Not exactly a gallant defeat…but perhaps a less ignominious one.
I will admit that I spent a lot time pondering what Craig would have said if I had failed to finish the ride. I concluded that he would have tolerated it, provided I had left nothing in the tank. Even though I was spent, I knew I was still holding a tiny bit in reserve to get me up that final climb. So when the Lanterne-Rouge riders swept past with about 8 riders sitting with them and they said ‘Jump on’, I knew that I had to go. I had been trundling along at about 16km/h and they were sitting on closer to 25km/h, but I knew that if there was a time to burn my matches…this was it. I sat with them for the last 5kms into Angler’s Rest, and arrived with enough time to eat my last sandwich (home made peanut-butter with a lolly-snake inside…adversity is indeed the mother of invention).
One thing that had kept me going for the last couple of hours was the promise of a can of Coke at Angler’s Rest. No less than 4 people had told me how amazing this hit of sugar and caffeine was. Sadly the mythical ‘best can of Coke of my life’ didn’t happen because they had sold out…so I had to settle for the ‘best can of Lift of my life’.
I heard the announcement that we had 5 minutes to leave Angler’s Rest and then 30 mins to ride 10kms to WTF Corner (the start of the climb to Falls Creek). That sounded eminently doable, and so I set off again.

WTF Corner to Trapyard Gap

I made the time cutoff for WTF and started the climb. If you haven’t seen the first part of the climb of the back of Falls Creek, it is insane. It kicks off insanely steep…and then pretty much holds that for about 12kms. I was only about 400m into the climb when I started seeing people walking. After about 2kms the number of people walking far outnumbered the people riding and there were an increasing number of people sitting by the side of the road either swearing at their cramping legs or with their head in their hands. By the time I got 10kms into the climb it was like a scene from a war movie. There were about 6 ambulances that went past, sag wagons full of dejected looking people rolled through, bikes were left by the side of the road, those who were still walking had 100 Mile stares, and the people sitting by the side of road looked shattered.

I knew I was making good time and that I was now a really good chance to make it in before the Lanterne-Rouge…and maybe even within the 13 hour time limit. I had promised myself that I wouldn’t stop until I got to Trapyard Gap. I wasn’t riding much quicker than walking pace…but there was principle at stake! Then a marshall stopped by the side of the road and offered me a can of Coke. There was a moment of hesitation…but I quickly dismounted and drank what was indeed ‘the best can of Coke of my life’. Then rode on to Trapyard Gap.

Trapyard Gap – Falls Creek

In a day of swinging momentum, I felt the momentum swing back my way. We had 23kms to go, 10kms of which were climbing, then the remainder was ‘rolling’ to the finish…and we had an hour and half to get it done to make the 13 hour official finish time. This was actually doable.
The Lanterne-Rouge riders rolled in and I had a quick chat. My mate Bill who was one of the Lanterne-Rouge riders told me to put my vest on as it would get pretty cold from here on in. As someone who had spent the last 6 hours suffering in the heat, I found that hard to believe…but I put it on anyway and then rolled out for the last part of the day.

If I reflect on the day I can see that the best parts of the day were defined by the groups I was with; the group from German Town to Harrietville, the two other guys I rode with for about 15kms out of Omeo, the Lantern-Rouge riders that I held onto for dear life into Angler’s Rest. The ability to have a conversation offers a respite from the relentless drudgery of following a wheel or turning over the pedals. It also serves to remind you that other people are suffering just as badly as you are.
Beginning the climb out of Trapyard Gap was pretty funny. On any other day, we would have been flying up this climb, but everyone had locked into their own rhythm and was pacing themselves up the hill. I could see how slowly I was going (about 10km/h) and each time I looked up I expected to see the other riders disappearing into the distance…but instead we all just travelled at the same pace. Sometimes you would have a burst of energy for 15mins and ride past some people, but then you’d fall back, and some of them would ride past you. But whereas for the first 12 hours the other riders had been either a wheel to jump on, or someone who was passing you, or someone for you to pass…once we got to the rolling section at the top of the climb, everyone banded together. We had taken the worst of it, and now we were desperate to finish as a diaspora of stragglers.
As the sun set it really was an amazing sight. The skies were grey in front of us, save for the burning orange on the horizon, the skies behind us were clear and dissolved from pinks to mauves and purples, and on the ridges you could see the silhouettes of riders. It’s a sign of just how tired I was that the thought of stopping to take a photo was not even entertained. Then the sun set, the sleet started and the landscape started to look like ‘The Upside Down’ from ‘Stranger Things’. Everything was muted greys and shadows, with the bike lights picking up the highlights of the raindrops. As I descended briefly and turned back into the wind, I checked my watch, it was nearly too dark to see, but I made out that I had about 5kms to go, and about 12mins to do it in if I wanted to make the 13 hour cutoff. I did some quick mental arithmetic and realised…that I was in no state for mental arithmetic. In short, I needed to average over 20km/h over the last 5 kms, and I had no idea how many hills were left, and I was riding into a headwind, and within a few minutes it would be too dark for me to see either my watch or bike computer. Deep down I knew this wasn’t possible, so I decided to just go flat out for the last 5kms and at least beat the Lanterne-Rouge riders home.
Having spent the first part of the day conserving energy for the inevitable final climb, and then spent 2 hours between Omeo and WTF Corner riding well out of my comfort zone just to avoid missing the cutoff times, it was strangely liberating to just go flat out and push myself, knowing that no matter what happened, I was going to finish the 3-Peaks.
I don’t want to get too prosaic, but for that last 5kms, even though I was riding into the wind, I felt like I was riding down hill. Everything felt fluid and strong, and I can only assume that a strong Tasmanian was pushing me along, and in the dark I gave a quick word of thanks to Craig Percival.
One more quick climb, and a sketchy descent in the dark and wet, then suddenly I was in the carpark of Falls Creek. Then there were people, and lights and noise, and the finishing chute. Then it was done. It was over. I pressed ‘stop’ on my watch and looked down to see how close I had come to 13 hours, my watch read ’12:58:49′! I’d snuck under the 13-hour time limit by just over a minute! Did this make up for the previous 13 hours of mental suffering and physical exhaustion? Noooooo, No, no, no, no, no!

But I will say that the 10 minutes I spent stumbling around the finish area talking to fellow finishers (including Jean-Pierre who had been my companion from Trapyard Gap, and one of the guys who I had ridden from Omeo with) was among the best feelings I’ve had in my life.
So unlike the Ironman where I walked away swearing ‘I would never do that again’, I reckon I would like to do this again so that I could at least know what to expect with each section of the ride…but next time I’ll train better…next time I’ll train better.
Last but not least, a big thanks to Katie and the kids for giving me a weekend off to see what was apparently some beautiful countryside, thanks to Ailie, Peter, Troy and Aaron for the support along the way, thanks to the Sufferfest for the training videos, thanks to the volunteers who were so awesome over the whole 13 hours, thanks to Bicycle Network for running such a great event, thanks to Bill and Chris the Lanterne-Rouge riders for keeping me in the hunt, and of course thanks to Craig Percival for the inspiration to do the ride…and for the push for the last 5kms, I couldn’t have done it without you.

To the winners go the spoils…and by ‘winners’ I mean people who have been riding for 13 hours…and by ‘spoils’ I mean not having to do that anymore.

How not to prepare for the 3 Peaks.

It’s now just over a week until the Peaks Challenge Falls Creek (affectionately known as ‘the 3 Peaks’) a 235km bike ride through Victoria’s alpine country that has, three hefty climbs. There are many guides on how to prepare for the ride, and they are great. But who hell wants to hear how other people are going to succeed? What you really want is some poor sap to outline exactly how not to prepare yourself for this ride, so that you can either laugh at their expense, or use their approach as the antithesis of your next training block…or just thank God that at least your preparation has been better than theirs.
Ladies and gentlemen,  I believe I am that sap. So here are my tips on how not to prepare for the 3 Peaks.

Do all your training on an indoor trainer

A year and half ago I wrote about falling out of love with cycling  I think it’s safe to say that neither of us really wants to get a divorce…but I am definitely sleeping on the couch each night.
A pretty clear indicator of this is that every time I’ve had to make the choice between heading out into the wee hours of the morning to go for a ride…or trotting out to the shed to sit on the trainer and do Sufferfest sessions…I’ve chosen the ‘sit in a room, sweating like a pig and being eaten by mosquitos’ option. For the uninitiated, a cycling trainer is basically an exercise bike (or in my case a device that I attach my actual bike to), and Sufferfest is basically an app that plays footage of cycling races and yells at you. So you can see why this would be a natural choice over getting out into the hills around Kinglake with a group of friends.
On the bright side, the number of times I’ve been abused by drivers or nearly run off the road while on the trainer is an impressive ‘zero’ (coincidentally ‘impressive zero’ was also my nickname at high-school). I can also scamper off the trainer and make breaky for the kids when they wake up…and it’s a hell of a lot easier to be served fruit toast on the trainer than out on the road.

Lose your coach

Last year I made a documentary about my friend and coach Craig Percival. Part of the deal was that he would coach me for an event. Craig had been my coach for the Ironman, and while I couldn’t motivate myself to do exercise…for some reason a weekly email from Craig was enough to make me feel guilty enough to actually get out of bed at 5.30am and train. I’d always wanted to do the 3 Peaks, and I thought that having a structured training regime that yielded a good result may be just what I needed to reacquaint myself with my love of cycling. So Craig and I had been working away at this goal for a few months.
Tragically, at the end of last year Craig died as a result of complications after a routine surgery. So suddenly I lost the coach and mentor that I knew I was going to be relying on…and the many conversations we’d had about his frustration with how much time his training took away from his family, took on a whole lot more weight.
In the Hollywood version of this story, I’ll be about 4km from the finish and feeling that I’ve got nothing left, I’ll look up to the sky (it will still be light because of how fast I’ve ridden) and ask Craig for help…and he’ll say ‘you’ve got this!’ and I’ll find a hidden reserve of strength and power to the finish.
But in reality, I’ll probably be begging for Craig’s help from about the 75km mark…and all he’ll say is ‘Mate…you really should have trained for this! Now if you’ll excuse me, David Bowie is running in the Heaven Marathon, and I told him I’d be out on the course to cheer him on.’

Don’t stop those swim and run sets

Between work, family and running your own business, there really isn’t a whole lot of time left for training. So it’s probably a good idea to just focus on the cycling when you have the time to do a session.
Or…you can do what I’ve done and split my time between swimming, running and cycling. If you really want bonus points, throw in a weekly circus class for the latter part of 2016. It will all pay dividends when you arrive at the bottom of Falls Creek and they say ‘Look, normally we make everyone ride up this hill. But if you can run 10km, tumble turn or juggle…we’re just going to drive up and you hold onto the side of the car.’

So what have I actually done?

I have legitimately done a lot of sessions on the trainer…including a few 2.5hr sessions that really took me to a dark place. Plus I commute 80km every week.

Like every geriatric, I’ve swapped out my 53/39 for a more hills friendly setup (for the non-cyclists…ah who am I kidding?…there’s no way any non-cyclists made it this far into this blog! So let’s get down to random numbers, I’m going to be running a 52/36 and 11/28)

I’ve also grown my hair long like Peter Sagan. Part of me still hopes that his incredible cycling strength is actually not due to his work ethic or genetics…but due to his long hair. It’s a long-shot…but long-shots are all I have left!

Most importantly, I’ve resigned myself to what is going to be at least 12…and quite realistically 13 hours of mental and physical carnage. I’m not going to waste any energy trying to sit with packs that are going too fast, I’m not going to stop for very long at any of the rest areas along the way, I’m going to eat before I get hungry, I’m going to try appreciate the natural beauty of the Victorian high-country, I’m going to remind myself that you learn so much more about yourself when you push yourself to your limits, and I’m going to remember a sign I ran past on the Melbourne Ironman that simply said ‘Just remember, you paid to do this!’.

Around the Bay 2015 – The plan

After spending exactly zero hours training together, the three members of a team for the Around the Bay meet to discuss their strategy for the day. Chris Riordan lays out his plan:

‘Ah gentlemen, glad you could make it. Austin, could you please close the door behind you? We don’t want everyone hearing our plans for the ride.’

‘Excellent. Thank you. Well this Sunday is the big day and I feel it’s probably a good idea to discuss our tactics for the day. Now, as the team leader…yes Austin…no, no you are not. While you have excelled in the logistical side of arranging our entry to the race, I’m sure you will agree that on the day we need a team leader who has a shot at winning.’

‘Well it’s exactly that attitude that makes you such a poor candidate for the role Austin, eye rolling and exasperated sighs aren’t going to help us at the pointy end of the race now are they? Also, quick show of hands everyone who was at this year’s Tour de France’…no one else?…That’s what I thought. So it’s agreed that I’m the team leader? Good.’

Melbourne – Queenscliff

‘Now as there are only three of us I’m suggesting we alternate between a 2:1 formation (in which two riders sit at the front and one sits behind) and single file formation. Clearly as the team leader I will not be able to sit at the front in either of these formations, so you will need to organise yourselves as to how quickly you want to roll the rotations…but with our 0 hours of training together, this really shouldn’t be a problem.’

The ferry

‘A lot of teams will be using the ferry as a chance to rest their legs. We will not be. I’m a firm believer in ‘active recovery’ and so I will expect one or both of you to work on my legs for the duration of the trip. This is not some pansy rub down…but nor is it a deep-tissue, let’s use our elbows on his hamstrings affair either. I can’t be more specific at the moment, but rest assured I will tell you everything that you are doing wrong on the day.’


‘Clearly stopping at the aid stations to collect food runs the risk of an accident with all of the merging cyclists…it will also diminish my ‘numbers’ in terms of average speed for the ride. So 500m from the aid station I will be passing one of you (I would suggest you rotate this role) my drink bottles, two of us will then ride past the aid station and skirt around the danger, while the other will stop, grab food, replenish the water bottles and then put in the hard yards to catch up with us. I will be easy to spot as I will be sitting on the wheel of the person who I’m riding with and taking selfies.

Sorrento – Melbourne

‘Clearly we will adopt the same riding formation on the ride back to Melbourne. However on the climbs, Paul it will be your responsibility to set the tempo (Austin I will need your legs of the flat section from Frankston). As we near the top of each climb I will swing past and claim ‘King of the mountain’ points. Ideally one or both of you will take photos of this. The social media plan for distributing these images will be covered in the ‘Social Media’ section of this briefing.
Once we hit the 10km to go mark, it will be important for me to start getting the legs ready for the final sprint. So I will be moving to the front to get the legs warmed up. These moves to the front will only be for 200-300m max, and it will be your jobs to adjust to these sudden surges in speed, and then allow me to tuck in behind once I’m done.’

The Finish

‘This is what it’s all about. All the training we haven’t done comes down to this moment. All the time we haven’t spent away from our families, all those mornings when we got up at 4.30am and then went back to sleep, all those sacrifices we didn’t make will all be worth it. But we need to execute this correctly! I do not want you screwing this up on me.
At 800m to go Paul will wind up the pace and start stretching the elastic of the weaker riders, then at 600m he goes flat out, I want to see some Tony Martin style drool coming from out of your mouth, then at 400m, Austin, you swing around the exhausted corpse of your brother and really turn on the after burners (while also checking behind you to make sure you haven’t dropped me…if you have, you must wait until I catch up and then start sprinting again). At 200m I swing past Austin (If I don’t have the leg speed to do this, Austin will start braking to create the impression that I am flying past him), then it’s all on me. I will power to the finish line, victory Riordan!
I will of course acknowledge your efforts in all post ride interviews, however (and this is very important) all winnings will stay with me. After all, I was the one who came up with this plan, I was the one who had to sit behind you two all day, and I was the one who put himself on the line for that last 200m to take the victory. So while there is no ‘I’ in team, there is in ‘win’. So you think about that before you start sending any snide tweets about me.’

Social media

‘Clearly any time I roll to the front it is incumbent on you to take photos of this so that the people at home know that I’m a team player and willing to do my fair share of the work. I’m suggesting hashtags of #whataguy #trueleader #sunsoutgunsout (this is only to be used if it is in fact sunny, and you have managed to capture an angle at which it looks like I have muscles…please let me know when I should flex).’

‘So that’s it. It’s a going to be a great ride, and I look forward to having a few drinks after we’re done (although I should stress that this will not be with either of you).
Go team!’

Shooting the Tour de France: An amateur’s perspective

“The tour, it’s like Crack isn’t it?” laughed the pro-photographer with the South African accent, before hopping on the motorbike to follow the peloton “Every year I say it’s my last time…but I keep coming back!”
Well I’ve never actually tried Crack, but thanks to the good folk at Cycling Tips and Exodus Travel I did get to see the tour this year, and while it’s pretty unlikely I’ll be able to afford to get back there any time soon, here are some things I learnt about taking photos at ‘Le Tour’.

Travel light…but not too light

The best way to get to a lot of the climbs and good vantage points to watch the race is to ride or walk. So whatever gear you want to take, you will be lugging with you on your back. On my first two days I carried just a 50mm prime and my Canon 550D. Which was good from a weight perspective…but made shooting a lot of things difficult. First of all, the 50mm being a prime lens means you can’t get a good spot by the roadside and then zoom out to get both the riders and the beautiful Alpine background…no, you need to step back a bit. Which means you are going to either have to shoot through a crowd (less than ideal) or shoot the riders quite tight (good to have, but you don’t want all of your shots to look like that).

Sagan tightening the straps for the descent
Sagan tightening the straps for the descent

So for the remainder of the time I carried the additional weight of the 17-55mm and pretty much shot everything on that. At the end of the day, riders on a road could be anywhere, so you need to be able to get wide enough to tell the story of where they are.

Geschke on his way to a stage win at Pra Loup
Geschke on his way to a stage win at Pra Loup

I didn’t take a 55-200mm lens on this trip…not because I didn’t want to…but because I don’t have one.

Use a motorbike.

All the pros get to use a motorbike…so why shouldn’t you? Well, because you’re not accredited so you couldn’t get access to the course…plus it costs too much…and let’s not forget helmet hair. But you will find that you can use the motorbikes in the tour to your own advantage by using them to set your shutter speed. Now if I learnt one thing from my time on the tour, it’s that professional cyclists go freaking fast…so you want to make sure that you have all your settings dialled in before they arrive. But if you’re an amateur like me, then you’ll have no idea what shutter speed you should be using. So I just experimented with different speeds and shot the motorbikes as they went past (there are quite a few that come through before the leaders arrive). If the motorbike looks sharp, then you can be quietly confident that the cyclists will be sharp when you shoot them.

Providing valuable info to fans, riders...and photographers
Providing valuable info to fans, riders…and photographers

You’re a photographer or a spectator…you can’t be both

It was embarrassing the number of times I thought there was still another big group of riders to come because I hadn’t seen the yellow jersey yet…only to go through my photos and realise ‘Oh…he came past five minutes ago…here’s a photo of it!’ Or I would be chatting to the guys I was watching the tour with and they would say ‘Did you see the look on Cav’s face on that climb?…he was suffering’ and I’d think, ‘Crap! That must have been while I was taking photos of the Colombian fans!’

These guys were having a good chat the whole way up the climb
These guys were having a good chat the whole way up the climb

You can try to occasionally just leave the camera in the bag and soak up the atmosphere…but deep down you just know that as soon as you don’t have the camera ready, Sagan will go past doing a wheelie…or a Yeti will attack the grupetto as it goes past. It’s just not worth that risk!

Don’t ‘spray and pray’

Nah just kidding, if you’re a professional or a purist, you can crap on about just focussing on taking one shot and really nailing it. But for you and I, when those riders go past, you are going to keep shooting until the cache is full. There’s no shame in that. After all, you’re the poor bastard who’s going to have to go through all of them later.
And sometimes as you’re shooting madly, the guy next to you will create a perfect frame through which to view the riders as they disappear into the distance…and you’ll look like a genius.

More good luck than good planning
More good luck than good planning

Don’t shoot the same shot every time.

I spent pretty much the whole time shooting and thinking ‘Well I’m just ripping of Kristof Ramon with that one…that one’s pretending to be Veeral…and look, I think I’m both Jered and Ashley Gruber in this one!’ In short, you’re remarkably unlikely to come up with a shot that’s never been done before. But by the same token you don’t want to come back with ‘Here are photos of 50 different riders, shot from the the same angle and with the exact same execution!’ So drag the shutter a little, focus on crowd not the riders, shoot tight, shoot wide, shoot portrait. Do whatever you can to make a shot that someone who doesn’t obsess over cycling will still want to look at.

'That's close enough'
‘That’s close enough’

TdF 2015_web-29

The peloton roll out of Modane
The peloton roll out of Modane

Do the boring stuff.

Load your photos every night. Tag them with metadata. Back them up to some sort of storage so that if the worst happens, they are in two (or ideally 3) places at once. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity, so spend the extra half hour to make sure it’s a story you can tell that doesn’t start with ‘I took this amazing series of photos, but then…’

A quick look to see who's coming
A quick look to see who’s coming

But above all just have fun. You’ll learn a lot just by being there, and if you end up with a pile of crap photos at the end, just hide them and tell people you were too engrossed in the experience of the ‘Le Tour’ to take any photos…they’ll never know any better.



Tour de France and the ‘Ultimate Job’ with Cycling Tips

Growing up, my Mum had a word for someone who was particularly lucky; ‘tinny’. If the right cards came up in a game of 500 more than a couple of times, you were ‘tinny’, if you got more than one prize in the Cup sweep, you were ‘tinny’, win a raffle you were ‘tinny’. It was a term often applied to my younger brother…but not to me. I’m a very lucky guy…but just not in a ‘Hey you just won a prize’ way. So I think it’s fair to say that I was pretty freaking surprised when I found that I was one half of the winning team in the Cycling Tips Ultimate Job competion. So now instead of staying up to ungodly hours of the morning listening to the dulcet tones of Phil and Rod and watching the French countryside try to outdo itself in a ‘which area looks the most like a fairytale’ competition…I’m actually going to be over there watching it live…and begrudgingly reporting back to you about it.

So how does it feel?

About 5 years ago I suddenly came to the crushing realisation, that I was never actually going to own a Porsche 911. For some unfathomable reason I had spent the preceding 35 years thinking that seeing as I really liked these cars…I was clearly going to one day own one. Then I suddenly realised that ‘Oh wait…that car costs more than our house did when we bought it, and has fewer bedrooms!’ Similarly last year I came to the realisation that with 3 kids under the age of 10, by the time I could afford to get everyone over to France to see Le Tour (let alone tackle some of the famed climbs) I was going to be too old and fat to actually do it. So to be suddenly told that I will actually be following the tour, on a bike and taking photos and videos is pretty amazing. But at the same time it’s a bit like someone giving me an owl as a present…sure, I’ve always wanted one…but I never really expected to get one, so now what the hell am I going to do with it?!!

Hopes and fears

Let’s start with the fears…because most people come to the internet in order to feel that at least someone out there is more worried than them.

Riding in the Alps- I’m sure most of us had an experience when we were teenagers of drinking waaay too much of an alcoholic beverage (usually a spirit), and then vomiting, and then spending the next five years feeling as though we were going to vomit every time we smelled that drink or even thought about it (Sambuca, I’m looking at you!) Basically your body says ‘Well that was freaking horrible…let’s never do that again’. Well after doing an Ironman earlier this year, I think it’s fair to say that for the last 6 months I have felt about as keen to hop back on my bike and go for a hard ride as I have been to give birth to a chair. So the prospect of suddenly reacquainting myself with cycling via a series of mythically steep hills is not filling me with confidence.

The internet- While I’m more than happy to put my musings online for my normal audience (love you Mum and Dad)…it’s quite another thing to be putting stuff up to a world of internet experts. I’ve seen content that I’ve really liked get ripped to shreds in the comments section. I’ve seen videos that would have taken ages to create, and photos that would have taken a lot of skill to pull off dismissed so cavalierly that it almost made me weep for whoever had created it, and I know that regardless of how many nice things people say about something I’ve done, it’s the person who has a go at me that really stays with me.

My hopes are thankfully a lot less angsty.

Zero responsibility- I won’t have any kids to look after, I won’t have a 9-5 to go to, and at the end of the day, no-one who reads Cycling Tips will be any worse off if my content sucks, because Lord only knows there is enough other content for them to enjoy. So all I have to do is ride, eat, sleep, take photos, make videos and write stories. Which is more than just the ‘Ultimate Job’ it’s pretty much the ‘Ultimate Life’.

Le Tour- I get to watch the tour during daylight hours. I get to see all these guys I’ve only ever seen on TV, in real life. I get to shudder when I realise how fast they actually go…and chuckle when I realise how skinny their arms really are. I get to travel to a country where cyclist aren’t treated like an unwelcome hindrance. I get to ride up hills that until now have only been spikes on an SBS course map or footage from a Sufferfest video. And I will get to see my travel companion Riley’s face fall further and further as he realises that my ‘fluent French’ is in fact just what I learnt from Pepe Le Pew as a child (look out black cats who have had some white paint fall on them!!).

For all of this I’m eternally grateful, and I can’t wait to get over there, soak it all up…and hopefully distill some of it back to you. If there are things that you would like me to talk about, then please let me know. But if you are reading or viewing any of my content for the time that we’re over there, I only ask that you remember that old saying ‘If you haven’t got anything nice to say…you’re going to feel right at home on the internet.’



So tell me about this shot…

At the end of last year I signed up for The Age’s ‘Clique’ photo competition. Basically each month they provide you with a theme and you have to submit a photo on that theme. I was relatively happy with my submissions for the first two themes (‘water’ and ‘building’), but I was really happy with my one for ‘shine a light on what matters to you’. Today I found out that it was a finalist in the competition, and while I didn’t win or get a highly commended it was awesome to have my shot rated so highly by the judges. A really good picture tells a story…but sometimes the story behind taking the picture can be just as interesting.

The Idea

Now the idea was to take a photo of something that mattered to you. Which is pretty much code for ‘take a picture of something that will make you look better by showing you care about it’, so I figured there would be a lot of photos about the environment and about poverty. While these things definitely matter to me…I wanted to do something that was a little more positive.
Seeing as I spend pretty much all of the time that I’m not working, sleeping or being a parent, training for the Ironman, I decided to take a photo of something to do with that. I’ve seen footage of me running, and that certainly isn’t an image I want to capture or share with other people…and taking a photo of myself swimming was probably going to result in the loss of my camera, so I settled on a photo of me on the bike trainer.

The challenges

I wanted to take a photo with a slightly longish exposure so that there would be an impression of movement through my legs being a blur as they pedaled, and seeing as we don’t have any lights in the shed where I train I figured that a long exposure would also allow a lot more light in. So my plan was to set up the shot by getting Josh to sit on the bike so that I could get it framed and focused, then shoot the photo with 10 second timer so that I had time to run over to the bike and start pedaling. But when I got everything set up in ‘Manual’ mode on the camera it would only allow me to set a 2 second timer, which was not nearly enough time for me to get onto the bike.

So I could either use a different mode on the camera and let it do the work…or I would need a camera assistant. Seeing as my main reason for joining ‘Clique’ was to get better at using the manual settings on the camera, I opted for getting a camera assistant to press the button to take the shot. Regrettably the only camera assistants available were a 12 year old Beagle/Labrador and an 8 year old boy. I went with the 8 year old boy (and anyone who uses this quote out of context against me is a terrible person!) Now 8 year old boys have many redeeming features, however sitting next to a camera, waiting for their Dad to scamper over to a bike and say ‘now’, pressing a button, waiting for Dad to unclip from his pedals and scamper back to the camera to review the shot and then say ‘that was good but I need you to do it again’ and then repeating this 15 times when they would much rather just play on the monkey bars is not one of them. Pressing a button on the camera without also moving the camera is also not really in their repertoire…and neither is staying really still while the camera is taking the long exposure.

On the bright side, being brutally honest about whether you should have a top on for the photo is a real strong point. The reality of using these bike trainers is that you do a whole lot of exercise without any real air flow, so you sweat a hell of a lot…so I normally do these sessions just wearing my cycling knicks. But with the innocence that has broken the heart of many a parent Josh inquired ‘Dad, are people going to see this photo?’ ‘I hope so’ I replied…and after a few seconds consideration ‘Well they probably won’t want to see you without your top on’ was his considered conclusion. So ‘capturing the moment honestly’ went out the window and the cycling jersey went on.

After about 10 attempts the shot still wasn’t working. If I pedaled at a normal pace, then my legs were moving so fast that my legs disappeared with the long exposure. And the shot looked really flat. So I shortened the exposure, put my phone with the torch on at the bottom of the trainer and put my laptop in front of me so that there would be a bit of light on my face. After another couple of shots I had worked out that if I pedaled really slowly, then I got the effect of the blurred legs I was after. Unfortunately, my camera assistant worked out that he really didn’t want to do this anymore and so he headed off to do something else. To add some further excitement we were about 10 minutes away from when it was time to put the kids to bed.

There was every chance that the entire night was going to be a waste of time, so I dragged Katie away from the kitchen and asked her to take the shot. Her first shot was almost perfect, so I excitedly made a few minor tweaks and saddled up for the winning shot…only to have my phone run out of batteries and lose the light at the base of the trainer. So Katie grabbed her phone and we went to try again…then the laptop ran out of batteries. So I raced it inside and charged it for a few minutes. Then with children who should be in bed revelling in the anarchy of not being in bed, with a laptop with about 5% charge and a phone with even less, and with any chance of actually doing a training session on the bike completely eviscerated, I saddled up for one last shot…and it worked!

The result

Selfish portrait

and if you want to see the photos that won the competition…head here

2 degrees of Melbourne – Episode 1: Andy White

A while back I wrote a blog about how this year I was going to focus on being more creative. It turns out that living with your parents while your house is being renovated, and then moving back in to the aforementioned house, leaves very little scope for creativity. But we have been back in our house for about 6 weeks now, and I have just finished my first real creative project…and I’m really happy with how it has come out.

The idea

I love Melbourne, and I love hearing people’s stories…so one of the big projects I wanted to embark on this year was to interview some Melbourne people who I admire and create a series of short videos. Basically to talk about my home city, via the people who I think make it great. In theory this is very doable…but in reality, people who are worth interviewing and making videos of, often have better things to do with their time than talk to you for a video that they are not getting paid for.
So it was with a fair degree of trepidation that I approached my first potential interviewee, Andy White (of Fyxomatosis fame). I put off writing to him for about two weeks, then I spent an hour or so crafting the perfect email, then I spent the next 12 hours preparing contingency plans for the inevitable rejection. So it’s fair to say that when he replied with ‘Sure. When/Where?’, I was both surprised and overjoyed…not to mention impressed with his brevity.
But once you have someone who has agreed to be interviewed, you then have to prepare for the interview. You have to make sure you have all the gear that you need. Most importantly, you have to believe that you are going to create something that your interviewee will be happy with, so that the next time they see you they don’t start screaming ‘You!’ and throwing things at you.

The filming of the interview

Andy was happy to come to my house for the filming, so at least I knew we would be able to get some good light…and if we used one of our new ‘Of course your happiness is my prime concern darling…wait, HOW MUCH?!!!’ chairs I might be able to claim them as a tax deduction. I used a roll of white paper as the background (I gave a guy my mountain bike when he was looking at getting back into cycling and he repaid me with reams of white paper, which make an awesome background for filming or photography) and I shot it all on my Canon 550D and my iPhone 4 (I used a Zoom H2 for the audio).
Any concerns I had about whether I would get enough good stuff to edit with were assuaged within the first 3 minutes. Andy is a dream interviewee, he was relaxed, fearless and best of all, engaging.
After 40 minutes of interview, the sensor on my camera was starting to overheat…and Xavier had returned to wreak havoc on my film set, so we called it a day.

The edit

As I said, the interview went for 40 minutes. Normally my first cut (where you get rid of all of the stuff you know you won’t be able to use) would whittle this down to about 10-15 minutes…then I would begin the tricky job of cutting it back to 3-5 minutes. But when I got rid of all of the guff from Andy’s interview I still had 30 minutes of footage…pretty much his entire interview was great! Which is great if you’re producing a half hour doco…but when you’re producing a 3-5 minute video for the web, it’s a freaking nightmare.
I was eventually brutal enough and cut it down to 5’30″(but there was some great stuff I’ll have to find another use for!), added some photos and footage that I had (and two that I got from Andy), wrote the music track in GarageBand…and the end result goes a little something like this…

or for the Vimeo fans

2 Degrees of Melbourne – Andy White from 2 Degrees of Separation on Vimeo.

So there we have it, the ‘Year of creativity’ is finally underway…my next interview targets are Richard Gill, Danny Collis and Hanna Assifiri. So if any of you have any good contacts with them, please let me know.

A big thanks

Last but not least, I’d like to thank Andy very much for taking the time, being such a great interviewee and most of all for running the best bike ride I’ve ever done, The Melburn Roobaix.



le Tour de France

I love the Tour de France, and not just because for three weeks of the year men with very skinny arms (like myself) are feted as sporting heroes. I love the drama of the cycling, I love listening to Phil Liggett, Paul Sherwin and Matt Keenan call the race, I love ogling Chateaus in the French countryside, and I love that, for the last week or so of the tour, people in Melbourne start talking about cycling as they would about football or cricket. Men driving Commodores temporarily refrain from loudly questioning your sexual preferences as you ride past. Women in BMW X5’s suddenly acknowledge your presence on the road (only kidding…no one driving an X5 is even remotely aware of anyone else on the road). Unfortunately this also means that the muppet who wasted valuable minutes of your life yesterday droning on about how ‘Fremantle can’t make the 8 because their defensive structures don’t allow them to play transition footy and blah, blah blah’…suddenly feels that they have the right to talk as if they know something about cycling. Chances are they won’t, and they will know this. So I’m No Expert But…here’s are some terms that you need to know about le Tour if you want to intimidate these people into silence by creating the impression you know all about cycling.

The Peloton

From the French word ‘Peloton’ meaning ‘group of cyclists who are too lazy to join the breakaway’ this is the main group of cyclists. There may be some people ahead, and some people behind, but this is where most of the cyclists are. Why? Because having someone riding in front of you (and thus absorbing most of the wind resistance) can save up to 30% of your energy. Get a big group of people riding in front of you, and you can pretty much just pedal the bare minimum and you will still be cruising along (often at about 60 – 70kmh).
There was a great article in Cycling Tips recently where Rupert Guinness compared the peloton to the villain in a movie, and this is so true. No matter how hard you try to get away, the strength in numbers of the peloton will always draw you back in and swallow you up…they may as well just play the Darth Vader music each time the peloton appears on screen.

The Breakaway

You know those riders I was talking about who are ahead of the peloton? These are the breakaway. Basically this is a group of riders who have decided that today is the day that they can beat the peloton and win the stage. About 95% of the time they are wrong, and get reeled in with about 2kms to go (if a couple of riders have worked really well in a break away but then realise that they have been caught, they will often sit up and shake hands or acknowledge the work the other rider has done…it’s one of the many parts of cycling I find so endearing).
So why do they do it? Well there are always a couple of breakaways who actually make it stick and outrun the peloton. Then suddenly you’re not competing with hundreds of riders for the stage win…you only have to beat 2 or 3…hell you should get a podium finish no matter what.
There is also the matter of sponsorship. Every cycling team has a sponsor, and if they have the choice of having their logo tucked away in the peloton where no one can see it…or out in front for a couple of hours with only a few other cyclists and a lot of cameras. Then they will take option number two, thank you very much.


Basically sprinters spend the vast majority of the race sitting in the peloton, then about 1km from the finish they start riding very fast, with about 400m to go they start riding very, very fast, and over the last 50m they ride at a speed and with a lack of concern for their own personal safety that is equal parts dazzling and horrifying. Any photos you see of them will either be them with their arms raised triumphantly having just won a stage of the race, or of them on the ground surrounded by the carnage of yet another crash.
Their prize is the Green jersey…and bragging rights.


Every gram of body-weight you have is another gram you have to lug up a sodding mountain…so the climbers are usually almost skeletal in their upper body. But watching a good climber fly up a near vertical road is pure poetry.
Their reward is the polka dot jersey…and the ‘pleasure’ of spending an inordinate amount of time having fat, topless men running alongside them yelling things.

GC riders

These are the general classification riders. They’re not the best sprinters, or the best hill climbers or the best time trialists…but they are insanely good at all three of them, and often have an entire team helping them. Their aim is to win the overall race, and the coveted yellow jersey.

So there we have the first couple of key terms you need to use liberally in sentences with people who you think are bluffing their cycling knowledge (for example “Wow, I thought last night’s race was going to be one for the climbers, but when the peloton reeled in that breakaway, it was all down to the sprinters. Didn’t hurt Cadel’s GC chances though.”)
I’ll be back next week with some more advanced terms like echelon, lanterne rouge and Gabriel Gate.


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