Thursday, 28 April 2011

Riding Melbourne's Trails

I use some of Melbourne’s bike trails regularly; the Main Yarra Trail most often for my daily commute. Because the MYT is constantly dogged by controversy it’s easy to forget that not all of Melbourne’s trails are semi-permanently diverted for the purpose of improving road infrastructure. And, in fact, improving road infrastructure sometimes works in our favour – like the construction of the Eastlink bike trail, which was mandated as part of the larger Eastlink freeway project.

Melbourne’s bike trails are actually pretty good, truth be told. And Bicycle Victoria does a decent job advocating further bike specific development. I always knew this… but getting out and using the trails, when there were perfectly good roads available, was never on my to do list.

After reading a post on a cycling forum saying that people have actually moved to Melbourne specifically for our cycling infrastructure I decided that a ride incorporating some of our trails had to go on the list – and the Easter weekend provided me with the perfect opportunity to tick the ride off the list.

This was the planned route:

So I started out along beach road and went along the bay trail, carefully weaving between the mums with prams in Brighton and the cool kids on their custom cruisers in St Kilda. My aim was then to get to the Eastern Freeway and discover the Koonung Trail, which follows the Eastern Freeway. There’s no easy way of getting from St Kilda to Kew, so I just put my head down, stuck to the left and darted across town as best I could – managing a small sojourn on Punt Road, and I lived to tell the tale.

The Koonung Trail was actually really beautiful and surprisingly un-broken. It pretty much goes all the way from Kew to Donvale with only a couple of road crossings. There were times that I could of sworn I was in the Victorian countryside; I knew that to the right of me there was a freeway and to the left of me was housing, but the trail makes you oblivious to all of these urban eyesores as it takes you through manicured parks and wetlands. By the time you hit the beginning of the new Eastlink trail in Donvale I was definitely starting to feel better about all of the tax I’ve paid over the years.

The Eastlink trail, which was the real goal of the day, started with no real pageantry. But by the time you come out of the Mullum Mullum reserve and the trail starts winding under a myriad of overpasses through Ringwood you know you’ve hit the new stuff.

The Eastlink trail is kind of like a new docklands apartment. It’s got all the bling, the shiny new appliances and fittings and the view, but lacks in terms of actual everyday living; once you start using those appliances and fittings you realise they’re a bit crap and they’ll probably need replacing soon. The Eastlink trail has magnificent new bridges and public art, smooth new concrete and fancy automated toilet facilities that speak to you, it even has speed indicators, but the signage constantly confuses and the breaks in the trail seriously impact it’s functionality for everyday cycling commuters.

Despite the fact that you have to stop every five minutes to check you’re on the right trail, and the fact that every time you are brought up to a road there is no indication of where the trail continues – or if it even continues at all, overall the ride is great and I shouldn’t complain. We are lucky to live in a city where they bother to build trails like this for our cycling pleasure – and adorn them with random art installations! I particularly liked this Lennon inspired scrabble dichotomy!

The trail ended abruptly in Dandenong and that was where I left it – it may have continued on somewhere else, but for the lack of signage I will remain none the wiser.

I then made my way back to the safety and familiar bitumen of beach road, and eventually home – the loop being just over 105 km’s in total.

Around Melbourne there are certain rides that are so sacred to the cycling fraternity (Beach road, Kinglake etc.) that you have to do them regularly, but it’s always good to discover new rides, like this one, especially if they’ve cost major taxpayer $’s!

It’s a simple equation: more cyclist’s using trails more often, means that more trails will continue to be built! Hats off to the State Government for making the Eastlink trail happen.

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

I fell off my bike

The other day I finished work early and with nothing better to do I thought I'd get cultured and visit an exhibition centered on the far too common bike stack.

The exhibition, called 'I Fell Off My Bike', is a series of short animations created by Melbourne artist Isobel Knowles. The videos are shown on a number of screens that have been embedded into large green-dinosaur-egg-looking-contraptions, just outside ACMI at Fed Square.

It's worth a look, and a good way to waste 20 minutes. Personally I think the exhibition would have greatly benefited from a segment on the classic 'can't-get-out-my-clip-pedals-quick-enough-when-stuck-at-lights' bike stack. No matter how many times I witness it - it never fails to raise a chuckle.

The exhibition is free and it runs daily from 6am - 11pm.

Inappropriate Pants

All roadies should watch this comedy sketch from Eddy Perfect - taken from the 2011 Melbourne Comedy Festival Gala. It is hilarious! Although, it's comedy value seems to be questionable according to some devoted roadies. But c'mon if you've lost the ability to laugh at how ridiculous you look in tight multicoloured lycra then there's a problem!

I know I look like some sort of strange human-wasp - trust me, this is extremely apparent as I do the walk of shame through my office every morning - and my work colleagues cop an eye-full of me looking like I'm auditioning for a fluro 80's version of Swan Lake.

One bloke said of the sketch in a web forum "it's soft target bullshit at best" - roadies... soft targets? I don't know about that, I've seen some cyclists, me included, turn into the Hulk after a car inadvertently cuts them off. And have you seen George Hincapie - I wouldn't want to meet that guy in a dark alley.

There are so many funny lines in this, "[car drivers] may as well rape a dolphin", and "we fill coffee shops, dressed like flocks of flabby lorikeets".

Watch it, have a laugh!

Friday, 8 April 2011

Your LBS

The Local Bike Shop can be a strange place for the un-initiated, all of the different bikes, strange clothes, walls plastered with odd accessories and worst of all, strange salespeople that are eagerly hanging onto some remnants from their punk younger selves, and worst of all, everyone is speaking some weird language that could possibly have evolved on a sister planet where the internal combustion engine was never developed and bikes reigned. And, the LBS can be just as anxiety inducing for the cycling regular; people trying to sell you things you know you don't need, mechanics over-charging for jobs you know take five minutes (but you have to get it done 'cause you're stuck without your tools), and of course, there's the problem of resisting the temptation to upgrade, and walking out of the shop with your wallet firmly lodged in the hip pocket.

Roadies are criticized regularly for chasing bargains whether they be online or at a low price chain, rather than staying loyal and supporting their LBS. I don't know about this - I tried to stay loyal to a shop for a while - but there's only so many times you can get ripped off and continue to just calmly cop it on the chin. The last straw was being charged $40 to replace a two dollar spoke, only to find out that the original broken spoke was just re-attached.

After that, I don't feel guilty about searching for bargains online, it's fun actually, I recently scored a Specialized Toupe saddle from the US for $100 less than here in Melbourne! And, in stark contrast to the situation with the spoke, I bought a cycling computer online, after 7 months it stopped working, I sent it back to the online store and within three days they had replaced it with another model that retailed for $40 more! That would just not happen at your LBS.

One day I went to a shop on Kings Way, I won't name them, looking for a hardtail for hire, to thrash at the You Yangs with an Irish friend. The smarmy prick that served us was a a true bike snob, not a snob like the satirical BikeSnobNYC, but a real snob in that he treated everyone like a noob - you and your opinion didn't count unless you worked in a bike shop. I think we actually asked him politely to stop bullshitting us - which made no difference. Unfortunately, the damage was done, and he made a lasting poor impression of Melbourne LBS's on my Irish friend.

Oh - then I had the funny encounter of impulse buying a shiny new fixie at a shop in Geelong. The girl that served me told me that without a shadow of doubt I could fit my Shimano 105 clipless pedals to the cranks. I took her word for it and off I went. Well, as it turned out, the cranks only took the smaller bmx style pedals. Guess I was the fool for not checking myself. Then again - I did flip the bike two weeks later on Gumtree for a small profit, so all's well that ends well.

And as for maintenance, for regular cyclists it would simply be too expensive to go to the shop every time something falls apart - most stuff has gotta be done yourself. I just wish I knew how to re-grease and re-build a hub!

On a recent trip to the States, I noticed an interesting trend in bike shops, especially in California (San Fran and LA). Bike shops there had tapped into another income stream - that being shop-branded casual clothing. Some shops had so much of it, it was like being in Abercrombie and Fitch, I had to fight through the clothing racks to see the bikes. It was cheesey, but some of the t-shirt designs were very cool... and I'm a little ashamed to say that I returned to Melbourne with a decent collection of new t-shirts from shops in the suburbs of New York, LA and San Francisco. Maybe, this is something shops here could tap into? If they can't compete with online prices and people (like me) are giving the workshop a wide berth in favor of doing work themselves - then draw people back to the store with something different. Then again, maybe I shouldn't be too concerned - a plague, of Victorian locust proportions, of new bike shops has sprung up over the last few years in Melbourne - maybe business is pretty good?