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Guest blog: The ups and downs of riding in Melbourne

This week, we asked Melbourne writer/rider Doug Hendrie about the ups and downs of riding in flat Melbourne.

I’ve been zipping about Melbourne on a cheap hybrid for eight years now, and I’ve virtually given up on public transport or short car trips as a result. Melbourne is a flat city – perfect for riding, with a gentle slope leading me from my suburb, Carlton North, down to the Yarra for work. Riding in Melbourne had a huge boost with the drought. More than a decade of below average rainfall in Bleak City = a big increase in riders venturing out.

Here’s a short list of pros/cons of riding in Melbourne:

Sweet bits:

  • Traffic is pretty bad in inner Melbourne and worsening, and the public transport system is groaning under the weight of new users. The plus side: a bike trip is generally faster than any rival form of transport. Plus parking is free.
  • Plenty of safe-ish routes to ride. From the inner northern suburbs, there’s Canning St which takes you most of the way in to the city, or the scenic route beside Merri Creek linking in to the main Federation Trail which tails the Yarra into town. The main bike thoroughfare in the centre of the city, Swanston Street, is being redesigned to exclude cars, cutting out the dangerous encounters as bikes squeeze between parked trucks and trams.
  • Bike culture is thriving. From its hardcore lycra enclave, cycling has diversified. Now you see fixie hipsters fooling around, workers on hybrids, young women on their bikes (the hardest market to crack, according to Crikey), tourists on the solid and reliable Melbourne BikeShare bikes, alleycat racing down bluestone lanes in Collingwood and open concrete drains in Flemington, and of course the infamous Hell Ride down Beach Road on Saturday mornings. New Australian bike magazines like Treadlie target these emerging riders, while the Brunswick Velodrome is where track cyclists hang out.

Pitfalls:

  • Dickheads or distracted drivers in cars. A universal issue for cyclists, of course, but one to be aware of. I had a near miss last week as an impatient tradie fanged it towards a red. The great thing is, of course, that the sheer number of intersections in Melbourne generally give you the chance to catch up to the offending driver and offer some tips as to how they might improve their control of their pet ton of metal.
  • Trams. Not only are tram tracks the perfect width to catch the unwary or drunk cyclist, but the new breed of tram can rocket along.

Doug Hendrie rides – and writes – in Melbourne. His website is www.doughendrie.com.au

What would you add to Doug’s list?