After heading all the way to France to see the Paris-Roubaix earlier this year, it seemed only fitting that I had to undertake the Melburn Roobaix. I had done the Melbourne version a couple of years ago with my brother, but on a cold, wet day we did it quickly and didn’t experience all it had to offer. I talked Mrs Bugler into doing the ride with me on the understanding that we wouldn’t be going quickly and we would regularly stop for coffee, lunch and refreshments. She wasn’t overwhelmed with excitment but we both began to look forward to the day.
The Melburn Roobaix is the brainchild of Melbourne cycling aficionado Andy White. Andy runs a website and bike ‘hub’ both called Fyxomatosis. The website and store grew out of his love for cycling culture as he began blogging about his cycling escapades, bike builds and photos. Andy holds a special place in his heart for the Paris-Roubaix. He has ridden the course, written about it, photographed it, and he finally parodied it in Melbourne. In 2006, Andy organised an homage to The Hell Of The North in which riders cycled through different cobbled sectors in Melbourne’s lanes. In similarity to Roubaix, the cyclists finished their ‘race’ with a lap of the outdoor velodrome in Brunswick.
The Melburn Roobaix has consistently grown in size due to the inclusive nature of the ride. An important point of the ride is that it is not a race. There are no prizes for first, second or third. Instead prizes are given for ‘The Cutest Couple’, ‘Most Awesome Foursome’ and ‘Furthest Travelled’. People are encouraged to participate, and complete a leisurely ride with numerous stops. It is no surprise then that one of the sponsors to have climbed on board sells coffee. As Mrs Bugler and I arrived at the start, a velodrome in Hawthorn, there were over 2000 participants of all ages, genders, wearing all kinds of outfits and on all manner of cycling machines. A quick scan of the crowd was enough to tell us we wouldn’t win ‘The Cutest Couple’ but we weren’t disheartened as we bumped into a couple of friends.
We set off not long after we registered. There was no official starting time, people just pedaled after they received their course map. The first sector, Bonbon, was a short lane off Wellesley Rd in Hawthorn. The bumps quickly reminded me how hard it is to negotiate cobblestones with narrow tyres. I slipped at one point but remained upright and we continued north through the leafy streets of Hawthorn. Mrs Bugler was quick to remind me of my fallibilities as a cyclist as she was directly behind me when I slipped on the wet cobbles The first detour was to Osty’s house where we admired his recent purchase from the outside before cycling on to Fitzwilliam St and sector 2, La Deuxieme.
Our group re-gathered after the cobbles for a coffee near the beginning of the sector. Another was added to our peloton and by the time we climbed back aboard our whips not many riders were behind us. Sector 3, Le Facile, was supposed to be easy. The cobbles had been pulled up leaving a bit of a treacherous and muddy ride. I don’t think that Andy had planned this. We skillfully negotiated sector 4, La Mort Des Roues, before heading back into more familiar Bugler territory around Studley Park. I was disappointed not to see the Paris-Roubaix zip through the Trouée d’Arenberg, but the Trouée d’Yarra-enberg was a decent second prize.
We resurfaced from the forests of Yarra-enberg near Dights Falls, a short cycle from Casa del Bugler. With the weather proving drier and warmer than anticipated, we voted to stop by home for a change of attire. As we detoured, I noted a couple of cyclists following us and, thus, being led astray. After the quick pit-stop, we headed north into Clifton Hill. Boucle Inégale, sector 5, began near Abbott Grove and looped around on itself. We nailed L’homme Dur off O’Grady St in quick succession before retiring to the Royal Hotel on Spensley St for another well-earned rest. We had done half of the sectors after all.
The re-fueling made the next part of the ride a highlight. The sun was out as we smashed sector 7 off Falconer St (Fitz en Travers) and set off along the Capital City Trail on Park St to the west. The distance on the map looked significant but the perfect cycling conditions meant that we high-tailed to the Flemington drains in quick time. The lack of detours and pit-stops probably contributed to our average speed too.
It was just as well we had such a dream run because number 8 was the only sector rated as 5 stars on the Melburn Roobaix. The dreaded Koppenburg. A blue-stone lane off Myrnong Crescent rises very, very steeply behind the houses of Ascot Vale. Cowbells rang out as we ascended. We rose from our saddles and pushed our cranks. Finally, after much exertion I rolled under the banner signifying the summit. But the sector was only part done. We still had to bump over cobbles with legs that felt like jelly before we rolled out onto blessed asphalt once again. There was only one way to celebrate. A six-pack of Melbourne Bitter from the closest bottleshop.
In many ways, it felt like we were almost finished. The hardest sector was done. We had ridden from the east of Melbourne to the west. We were celebrating. But there was still some Hell to come. A Monteé de la Pavé off Fanny St Moonee Ponds was rated as 4 stars and was longer than expected. We re-crossed the Tullamarine and confronted Carrefour l’Fyxo off Hope St Brunswick. Again, it felt impossibly long. By sector 11, Nouvelle rue d’Homme off Newman St, Mrs Bugler was complaining that she doesn’t even really enjoy cycling. Welcome to Hell.
Our screaming legs and aching crotches told us that the end was nearing. And it was. We zipped along to Evans St for the final sector, Chemin des Géants. As opposed to Mrs Bugler, I was enjoying the rhythm of the cobbles. I attacked the cobbles with some speed and stood up as I ground out the final sector. Smooth bitumen welcomed us at the end and, as a team, we rolled on to the Merri Creek Trail for the push to the finish. The huge crowd of cyclists had again congregated at a velodrome for the second time that day, this time in Brunswick. I rode high around the banks of the track and coasted to the finish line.
We rewarded ourselves with sausages and beer, very appropriate for the Melbourne version of the Queen of the Classics. One of the things I enjoy about the Fyxomatosis website is the way that it seems so personal, as though you are reading about a friend. Hell, I even appear in one of the galleries! This made it somewhat of a surprise to see Andy perform the presentations in front of such a large crowd. He almost seemed like a celebrity.
We didn’t win the cutest couple, or the most awesome foursome. Furthest travelled was always going to be tough when the race went so near our house. But we, along with countless others, had a brilliant day. We saw parts of our fine city that we didn’t know existed. We found new coffee shops and pubs. We encouraged and supported each other. Even cars seemed friendlier and more polite. So kudos to Andy and the Melburn Roobaix for making A Day In Hell seem so nice.