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.

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