You know when you’re on a walk, there’s that moment of perfect fluidity? It’s in an alley in Brunswick that it clicks for me. The bluestone cobbles are wet and jarring, interspersed with deep puddles. You can’t do anything but trust your bike’s course through the middle, hoping you don’t hit an edge that breaks the rim.
Tim is up front, a big diesel engine with Cliff in his wake and me behind, and we lean over the central drain and around the people taking a more reasonable pace. It’s loud and a little scary, but you hang on and hope, because what else is there to do? If there’s a more perfect metaphor for Troubled Times, I can’t find it.
Melbourne’s cyclists – roadies, gravel riders, kids in trailers, families, big bike maniacs – were back in Melburn-Roobaix.
Over the past 16 years, this non-competitive alley cat – created by Andy White of FYXO fame and run as a family affair with his wife Melodie – has attracted hundreds of riders from all branches of the sprawling family tree. of cycling. Inspired by the unauthorized courier races White participated in during a previous life as a bicycle courier, Melburn-Roobaix plots a tangled course around the cobbled lanes and cycle paths of Melbourne’s inner suburbs.
Just like Paris-Roubaix, there are numbered sectors which count until a finish in the velodrome; just like Paris-Roubaix, someone hoists a cobblestone trophy over their head at the end of the day. That’s about where the similarities end. It’s not elite road racing, but an open-arm embrace of all things cycling. “I love the visual spectacle,” enthused White. “All these people in disguise, everywhere you look there are people – people on retro bikes, old bikes, cool bikes, wacky bikes, everything.”
The “winner” is drawn from a barrel, and anyone who correctly completes the ride manifest questions – what number the house is left at the end of Sector 10, that sort of thing – is eligible. They bring home a jar of jam from White’s mother as well as a gold spray-painted stone. Other high-profile categories — judged by volume of applause — include “cutest couple.” To be in the mix, you have to create a really good costume, and it’s clear that people have spent years intrigued.
The last Melburn-Roobaix dates back to 2019 – like many things over the past two years, Melburn-Roobaix has had a hiatus due to COVID restrictions. For White, it had been a blessing in disguise – after the financial blow (the 2021 event was canceled at short notice, due to a reinstatement of distancing measures), he had pivoted to an additional career as a trail builder. Today, he has two professional passions, in a life that always revolves around cycling. “I’m so grateful to have learned so much, to have met some great people, and to be able to do something I’m passionate about,” White said.
I feel like it’s also White’s way of giving back to the community he’s such a part of: “The reason I started doing events is because I remembered how fun it was and all the unknowns. Now it’s a really powerful thing to be associated with someone else’s defining cycling memories,” White told me thoughtfully.
A lot of time had passed between the events, however, and he felt it – we all felt it. Melbourne residents have endured one of the longest COVID lockdowns in the world, with movement limits, curfews and travel bubbles. When that ended, there was this strange process of reintegrating into normal life – although “normal” still isn’t.
For most of 2022, it felt like everyone I knew on a bike was counting the days to Melburn-Roobaix, and as there always seems to be now, there were people who missed because they had just tested positive. It was the first time I had ridden with many of these friends since last Melburn-Roobaix, and this year it brought both added joy and emotion. Friends with kids I’ve never met, new relationships, broken relationships. Big stuff and little stuff.
This year’s Melburn-Roobaix was, as always, several hundred different stories spread across a city. Mine started with an icy bike ride from my house, along bike paths that trace suburban highways and creeks, before a swarm of people with yellow event haversacks showed me I was in the right place. place. It started raining with rain about an hour later, and no one really seemed to care. A sloppy embankment next to a bridge led to a brewery where a mud-splattered horde converged, gobbling up hot fries and cold IPAs.
Groups broke up and reformed in cafes and pubs, navigating by disintegrating paper maps. A marching band played as people slid down a rough slope next to a bridge.
At the end of the ride, we all cycled through the Brunswick Velodrome, hit the end-of-day photo booth and snapped this year’s usual black and white portrait of the friends we’d rode with throughout the day – hammering it , arms wrapped around each other, muddy faces and white teeth.
Before the event I had called Andy and Melodie to chat and we had talked about what the 2022 edition of Melburn-Roobaix could mean. He had told me that after two years of hiatus, he hoped it would be “the best ever, because we learned so much – the community learned so much – about how to interact with the world after having coping with the pandemic. There is a lot of sadness in the event, the fact that some people who would have ridden are no longer with us, and I know some people have had hellish and horrible years… but I can’t wait to reconnect with people , after what seems like an eternity.
He was right about the tough few years, and he was right that it was a special edition of the race – because it wasn’t just a bike ride, not really. It was like a community coming together again and making peace with the past. This is no normal cycling event, where people weld bikes for the day, or build team suits, or have a serious heart-to-heart over a parma.
On a rainy, wintry Sunday in June, we rode together and worked on what we had lost. By the time we arrived at the velodrome, we remembered what we had always had – each other.
And bikes. Always bikes.