Sat 22 July - Melbourne-Roubaiz “Hell of the Northcote"
12PM - Starting from Fed. Square.  Fun for all! - course will be run over
melbourne's brutal pave,railway crossings, dirt tracks and finishing with
a lap at the brunswick velodrome.  All finishers go into a draw for major
prizes.  This is NOT a race!
FREE but bring $10 to purchase items along the way and a panier or backpack.
organiser: Simon of Darebin BUG

It should take us about an hour to get to the start, so 11 o’clock and out the door — first time on the tandem for quite a few months! Oakleigh, Hughesdale, Murrumbeena, Malvern and onto the Gardiners creek trail. Major detours around Hawthorn where the path is being repaved, restored or maybe just re-layed. Follow the trail to Richmond and the city and join the crowd clustering around in Federation square, awaiting the signal, all the while under the watchful eye of two of Fed Square’s burly security men. Maps are distributed, bicycles are examined.

“Alright everybody, this is Ugly. Remember Ugly. You will need to find Ugly.” Easy to hear when the megaphone points at you, very hard to hear when it points elsewhere. We get the rough idea, a few minutes more and finally we’re told to head off — first stop is to get to Rod Laver arena where Ugly will hand us our cards and our instructions. That’s not so hard, we just came from there, so along with however many others we all headed off along the river in the direction of Richmond.

Arriving at Rod Laver arena, I held the bike while Jo vanished into the throng, returning with our card. Then off to squat on the road and peruse the map, where are these twelve points, what is the optimal route between them?

We figured out a rough plan of attack — the first two not just closest but also in familiar territory — then headed off in the direction of Fitzroy. Short cut past the MCG along one of the newer footbridges and off through East Melbourne, Victoria parade the first challenge as major roadworks made crossing a hassle. Something resembling a hook-u-turn got us around and back down the direction we wanted, then off up Rokeby street searching for the building site with the Austral sign — Q.6. What is the block number of the building site with the Austral sign.

Rokeby street seemed to finish, a narrow bluestone lane matching up on the opposite side of Gipps street — Aha, our first section of the dreaded Melbourne pavé — brace the shoulders and power the tandem off down the lane, gradually narrowing to impassable where a builder’s truck blocked all progress. Squeezing past, Jo helpfully pointed out that this was the Austral bricks sign we should be looking for! One question down, eleven more to go…

Number two — or five on the card — was easy. Cut across to Richmond and count the pink gates in an alleyway. Saturday Victoria street and the tandem don’t seem to agree, it just doesn’t have the acceleration for right-turns through the traffic! More pavé in the lane and one pink gate, two more cyclists enter the alley as we’re leaving. Down through Richmond using all of Jo’s sneaky local knowlege culled from years of walking to work, then Church street and Toorak road for checkpoint four at the far end of Rokeby — amazing, no pavé! A handy park, empty the bladder and fill the bidon.

Another right turn, across packed Toorak road, half a dozen others speed past in the direction we just came, I think they’re taking this much more seriously than we are, or maybe just much more quickly! Off along Toorak road, damn, should have stopped at the bakery and grabbed a bite to eat. Randall place is checkpoint three and the first place where we met other riders at a checkpoint. There’s a lot of discussion of the question, “the last three digits on the lamp-post” . The bloody lamp post seems to be covered in numbers, 703 on one tag, a five digit number on one sticker, K285 hammered in down low seems last to me!

Back to Toorak road, right turn a piece of cake across a bizarrely empty road, Albert road to South Melbourne then stop at the lights for the first occurrence of map-reading failure. “Go right here” , so we’re in the right lane — “um no, straight ahead I think” . The lights went green and there’s no option, right we went, then up the kerb and cut into Dundas place. “Oh yes, this is where I meant, the map was upside down” . Okay, it seemed to work!

Pavé and slimy mud, a wonderful combination. We came through unscathed and found checkpoint two, then an easy run back up Ferars street to Southbank to find Railway place. Left or right at the end here? Mental coin toss and the wrong choice, back the other way onto the worse looking cobbles (that should have clued me in) and count the gas bottles three. Checkpoint one complete. Tandem u-turn in the alley, through the chicanes across the light rail and back past Jeff’s shed and north over the river.

North wharf road through Docklands seemed to be hiding from us, we had a vague idea of where it should be but couldn’t seem to find it. At last I spotted two riders on fixies off to my left so we picked a path and found our way over there, sure enough, North wharf road! It seemed to go on for ever, ending almost under the Bolte bridge. Q12, How many Allez are painted on the rusty steel pipes? See for yourself, there are five.

Now back to the city for checkpoint eleven and our first major navigational stuff up. Docklands to the city seems to contain a few walls of concrete and roads that will exist — in the future. We followed a sign that helpfully said “City,” but a left instead of a right had me in a concrete canyon and heading for Footscray road. Oh well, back into the CBD from the North-West and down to Lonsdale street.

We found Niagara lane easily enough — more pavé of course — but couldn’t find the clue. The first run through the alley was riding with a 4WD on our tail, the second pass on foot heading back. Finally Jo spotted the answer, hidden behind two cars parked in a sub-alley off the main alley! Can’t remember the last time I entered the CBD, let alone rode up an alley here….

Carlton next, first to spot #7, just off Canning street, then off to #8 in Taplin place. Major overshoot by a couple of blocks, it seems that a street we were looking for had different names either side of a main road. Madame navigator was looking for one name while we rode purposefully past the other one! How come those three girls behind us aren’t there anymore? Oh, that’d be because they turned off where we should have! U-turn in Canning street and back down to Macpherson street. Mud and slime on top of the pavé this time, an extra degree of difficulty. I think this is where I nearly lost it and bashed my shoulder against the fence to keep the Trek upright.

North and east from Carlton to Northcote, Nicholson and Holden streets rather than St Georges road — no obvious reason, they just seemed right at the time. Checkpoint #9 was in a tiny street with no signpost, pavé of course. Then simply go around the block and up the alley to #10. There was a lot of up in the alley, it had been named Col d’Ugly on the notes and at the top were a couple alternating between photographing the arrivals and screaming “Don’t you dare get off!” “Allez, allez!” and other words of encouragement and derision. Brute force and stupidity triumphed as we powered the tandem over the jack-hammer bluestones, a near-crash with the alley wall resulting in Jo unclipping both feet in preparation for an emergency dismount, then flailing around madly as she realised we were still underway! We made it to the top, our polaroid photo taken to be used as a ticket in the raffle.

A pause to regain our breath, then over to the Northcote plaza for our contribution to the barbecue — $10 worth of orange juice, 3 two litre bottles — a challenge to carry! We ended up with one stuffed down my shirt and the other two in bags, one on each side of the rear handlebars, then rode across to Brunswick taking care not to set up too much of a swaying motion.

Finally into the velodrome to thunderous applause — yeah right, maybe in my head. In true Roubaix/Roobaix fashion it isn’t over without the lap of the velodrome— this could be interesting, a lap of a steep concrete velodrome on the tandem and avoiding the massed bodies scoffing sausages and beer! Hardest part was getting started, I’d rolled forwards past the crowd but that left us in a steeper spot and I couldn’t get my leg over…. A bit of a push, much ribald encouragement and we were off, must have been the slowest lap of the day, but it’ll do for a first attempt!

Food, drink, talk, look at bikes. This all could have gone on far longer, and for many it probably did, but for us we realised that although the inaugural Melburn-Roobaix was now over, we were still twenty-five kilometres from home and only one hour to sundown! Easy for some, not at the end of this day for us, the last suburb or so was pretty dark, luckily the yellow jacket and reflectors stood out like the proverbial, and no grumpy policemen were encountered.

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