January 19, 2022|Fitness From the Director

A Novice’s Guide to Commuting to Melbourne CBD by Bike – Part 2

Recapping from my last blog, I mentioned that I had resolved to ride to work in the city three days a week and indeed on Christmas Eve 2021, for the first time, I did.

On New Year’s Eve, as I ate my consecutive piece of home made pizza, I reaffirmed my pledge for 2022, quietly to myself before and after every olive.

So 2022 came and soon enough I restarted work.  But I didn’t ride… I just wasn’t organised that first morning.  When I got to work, Leila the dentist and Enza the receptionist looked at me and asked “where’s your bike?”.  I said, “no, not today, not yet”.  They paused and looked almost astonished.  I crept into my consult room.  A few days later that week my family got back from their summer holiday and one morning when I was going to work (by train) as I went to leave the house, my youngest daughter looked at me perplexed, “Dad, aren’t you riding to work?”.  “Nah Liv, I’ve got too much to take in with me today”.  “Daaaaadddd!”.

Later that night, my wife, said in passing, “how come you’re not riding?”.  “Not yet” I replied.

I was feeling the pressure and it wasn’t all self propagated.

I carried on like this for about a week and a half.  Then a remarkable thing happened.  My in-laws arrived and my wife told them how I had resolved to ride into work in 2022.  Suddenly I felt like a uni student again.  All those times that I’d tried to impress them, except of course for my baby blue coloured rut putty car, which always looked like crap and bought down the value of their house and general neighbourhood.

That night, Nathalie, my wife again asked me, “are you riding tomorrow?” I said, “yes, but I just need to work out how to go through Port Melbourne into the city”  I started googling this, but remarkably couldn’t pin point a good resource.  She reminded me that once I had run that way, on a fun run, Conner’s Run.  Now I remember that run, and I was pushing myself pretty hard and felt pretty light headed, so although I recall the general terrain, didn’t know anything about the details.  Fortunately she was right though, when I looked up Conner’s Run and analysed the course, it clearly showed where to turn off and get from Port Melbourne to Southbank.  So that was it, I was bound to ride.

Now my father-in-law, Richard, he’s fit and also happens to be a member of the Sunshine Coast Bicycle Touring Club, so the next morning  when it was time to ride to work, it was really time to ride to work.

The weather was fine, Richard was taking it easy on me but looking way too comfortable whilst doing so all the same, grinning widely.  He checked our pace periodically on his smart watch.  That did motivate me and I recalled a lady in the bicycle shop once saying that if “I was like 99% of all other riders, I’d try to get faster every time”.  At the time, I scoffed at it, holding my “recreational line” but with numbers and speed being mentioned, and Richard in the wings, I started to feel that itch to push myself.  And then, “snap, bang, crash”.  As I went over a big bump, my phone flung out of the cradle of my bike handle and bounced around on the footpath.  A passer by kindly picked up and handed me the wreckage, my phone, and the messed up components of my Otterbox.  I don’t think it was actually the bike phone cradles that was the problem, it was that my Otterbox was so old, cracked and flimsy that the phone I reckon popped out of the bike cradle going over the bump.  But the damage one way or another was done, screen smashed up.  I tapped a few times and was pleased to find that it still worked.  I was impressed by that, good ol’ iPhone X being stainless steel!  An important tip there – if you put your phone in special bike cradle, don’t have a wonky phone case or broken Otterbox, it’ll fall out!  And, when riding with your father-in-law, generally, don’t try to show off!

Phone went “smash”

The rest of the trip to Port Melbourne was as enjoyable as the first time.  I did notice my lower back hurt a bit, but it was just a niggle.  When we got to station pier, Richard headed back home.  I turned off and headed through Port Melbourne to the city.

Sandridge light rail trail – this is where to turn right into the city

I’d never ridden through that way and it was absolutely beautiful.  The gardens were splendid and I passed quite a few people, walking, jogging and riding their bike into the city.  I was fascinated as I pondered, I wonder what it’s like to live so close and just casually end up at the city as if it was the corner shop down the road.  Amazing.  I absolutely loved that part of the trip.  Riding through gardens like that really did feel like an oasis.  I stopped here and there and appreciated the flora and overall ambience.  The tram line and depot alongside, what’s described more elaborately as the “light rail”, was equally as quaint.  To sum up, being on the bike now felt so much better than when I did the “fun run” and the bone marrow felt like it was going to pop out of my knees and I was close to vomiting.  Although admittedly, that’s perhaps an unfair comparison.


Parklands heading into the city – beautiful to ride through

When I got to the city I quickly retrieved my phone from my backpack in the hope that it was just the screen protector that was cracked.  Not so lucky.  Needless to say that Enza and Leilah looked more satisfied to see me enter with the bike.  Their faith was restored.  Might I say that the drama surrounding my phone had one unexpected and big benefit, I didn’t have any pain in the bum at all. I’d completely even forgotten I had a bum.  The mind is so funny that way…distraction.  Amazing!

During the day, my back was a bit sore.  Not too bad.  Heading back home on the bike, it was worse.  I wondered whether it was the height of my seat, whether it was too high.  The ride back home was actually quite gruelling that night, because there was a head wind that really made me pedal hard.  Nevertheless, it was a sunny day and there were once again heaps of people having picnics on the grass, laying on the beach, loving life.  St Kilda in particular has quite an awesome culture that way.  Speaking of, it’s nice to see so many different types of people coming together and all enjoying the same thing – the sun, sand and sea.  As a community, we have so many things in common, and that’s one of them.

Riding along, into the wind, I did cop a few big bugs rush into my eyes.  Awful whilst you’re riding and it happened a few times.  Riding glasses – I’ve decided are a necessity.  Like the shorts, it ain’t about fashion or aerodynamics, in this case, it’s about stopping bugs crawling on your cornea.  Now when I look at riders, I know a newbie – no sunnies.  I’m just not sure about the spend, I’ve presently using my el-cheapo/freebie medical glasses that I use for infection control and they’re doing just fine.  No bugs have broken through.

El cheapo glasses – doing the job!

Riding home that day, was tough work.  At one stage, I saw this guy running up hill slowly and I was trying to catch him.  He wasn’t that fast, but still – I struggled.  My back was hurting and so I found myself standing up riding quite often, stretching my back, rubbing it at times.  For a few moments there, I was doubting myself.  Is this really good for me?  I guzzled some water from my bottle and kept moving.

Finally I got home and didn’t talk about it too much.  My back was sore.  I talked to my work colleague Brett and he said “maybe your back’s sore because it needed to build up muscles”.  Sounded a bit wishful, but it did plant a seed of hope.  Nevertheless, I thought it may be because my bike seat was too high.  I talked to Richard about it, he knows what he’s doing.  He let me know that my knee should be bent at about 20 degrees when my leg is stretched most on the pedal, in other words, when the pedal is at its lowest.  Okay, I’ll take a look.

By the time it was the next time to ride, I never did get to adjust my seat – damn.  We had left the house and on our way.  Only this day, a few drops of rain started to fall, then some more.  I pulled over and put on the backpack rain cover.  It was a bit OTT but I figured enough had gone wrong with my phone, so the thought of letting my laptop, which was in my bag, get wet, engulfed me.  And on we went.

Along the way, I mentioned to Richard about my seat height.  “Looks pretty good to me, twenty degrees”.  Damn, there went that excuse for my aches and pains.

Around Port Melbourne, I asked Richard how we were looking for time and speed and he had a look at his watch.  I forget exactly what he muttered, but whatever he saw gave him the impetus to make me eat his dust.  Like a bullet he was off into the distance.  I didn’t even try to keep up with him… well I did for a moment and then realised he was still rapidly getting smaller.  I still didn’t get why I wasn’t able to move faster.  I reckon my loaded backpack doesn’t help.  I think if you ride to the city routinely, you’ve got to leave more stuff at work.  I looked like a turtle, with a rain cover over its shell.  I got to Station Pier and saw Richard off.  He headed home.  I headed down through the parklands of Port Melbourne into the city.  The rain had well passed and the sun was out.  Life was good.

Richard – the bullet.

Surprisingly, my back didn’t feel too bad this morning and I must say, I had progressed to wearing the more expensive bike shorts I had originally purchased, you know, the ones that actually fit.  And you know what, they were much more comfortable.  All this tech and tweaking, I starting to believe in all the detail after all.

Riding through Port Melbourne, along the light rail trail, into Melbourne city was again just delightful.  I was smiling at everyone who passed.  I think one person smiled back.  Others looked concerned.  Life was good.  And then, I hit my next peak moment of my 2022 cycling career.  It was on a straight down that trail, on a flat.  I was well balanced and…I took my hands off the grips, hovering above just in case.  Then I moved them further and further… soon, bang baby, I was riding no hands like a boss (that’s what I fathomed my son would say).  I was swaying my arms side to side like a power rider and I  was pedalling along singing this and that song.  No hands was back.  The last time I did that was ages ago, as a kid. I had tried it as an adult on my mountain bike, but that thing was too heavy, or I hadn’t ridden enough to get it back.  But it was back now, riding with no hands, and I felt like a teenager again.  As I approached the exhibition centre, I saw coming at me another cool dude riding no hands.  He looked at my no hands, I looked at his.  We acknowledged each other with a no hands smile and a nod.  I was getting closer to being one of the pack.

That day in the city, whilst in the clinic seeing a patient, the emergency sirens within the building went off.  At first I laughed it off as a drill, but then I heard fire alarms and so we started to pack up.  What do I take?  I shoved a few things from my desk into my bag and then as I was walking towards the door I couldn’t resist, I grabbed my bike and headed for the front door.  Silly perhaps, but I didn’t want to leave my facebook marketplace trusty steed to burn.  When I reached the outside of the building, leaning on the bike, I continued my consultation with my patient.  An odd situation, but life went on.  I hoped my bike appreciated my played out affection for it.  The sirens turned off and normality resumed.

It was a long day at the clinic that day.  I got out relatively late.  When exiting the building, I heard the pumping of music at the local bar but as I stared over at it, it was pretty empty.  No people, just music.  A sign of the Omicron times.  I considered my bike and I were adding some positive vibe to the ghost town that once was the Melbourne CBD.  I texted my wife to let her know I was setting off and foot to the pedal, just like that I was back in motion.  Riding through the city, I was feeling good.  A few electric scooters and skateboards and bikes zoomed past.  This included lots of delivery vehicles.  I mused at what life must be like living in the city doing that job, ducking and weaving around the city like that.  Indeed, the presence of all of these different types of vehicles really did change the complexion of the city to me, almost I was overseas, perhaps in Asia.  Surreal for a moment.

Riding past Southern Cross Station is always interesting.  That place is popular with homeless people and seemingly so many different people who must get off the train and by hanging out for a cigarette.  Just lots of different people, standing outside, smoking.

Outside Southern oCross Station – always interesting

Beyond that, I love riding over the Spencer Street Bridge over the Yarra River.  It marks a gateway for me where I know soon I’ll be out of the city and into parklands.

Views fom over Spencer Street Bridge

I must say that there is a fork soon after where both ways look right in so much as there is a bike lane, but choose right (wrong) you’ll end up losing your way.  You’ve got to stick to the tram line, which is to choose left.  I’ve attached a photo of this point for reference.

Which way? Choose left!

Having chosen correctly, soon I was, again riding through those parklands that hug the light trail.

Parklands riding home – so tranquil

Although something different was happening this time.  I seemed to be catching other riders in front of me.  I couldn’t believe this.  It was my third ride and after seeing all manner of rider pass me, sometimes despite a secret effort from my side to avoid it, I was now catching them.  I passed a few.  I passed some more.  I loved Marvel and DC – could I be – bike boy?  Hmm.

I kept going.  By the time I got to Bay Trail down Beaconsfield Parade, riding down that strip felt easy.  That area has a crowd of its own, lots of buff bodies and shirts off.  I’ve never been to California, but if I had, maybe Port Melbourne and St Kilda it would remind me a tad of it.  Around those parts, I’m always on the look out for Anthony Kiedis and the rest of the Red Hot Chilli Peppers to jump out.

Beaconsfield Parade home… where’s Anthony?

Now there a question that I’ve had to answer on my rides – headphones or not?  Will it rob me of the ambience of the ride?  I’m still not sure.  It just depends on my mood.  In general, I love listening to audiobooks, that’s what I sometimes did on the train.  But just like the train – sometimes.  Some reference needs to be given to safety on a bike also.  I don’t turn it up too loudly, so as I can gauge the sounds of my surrounds, keeping me alert.  But again, I’ve accepted, just like the train, it’s a sometimes thing.  Sometimes an audiobook, sometimes music and sometimes without.  I use my Apple Air Pods so far.  They’re ok.  I don’t think my ear shape is best for them.  They tend to slip out here and there, but they’re ok. Also, I’m conscious that too many headphones…can wreck your hearing.  I think mine might be down a little.  But it’s mainly my failure to understand what my kids are saying and I wonder that’s because they’ve inherited odd accents at times from Youtube binges.  Not sure.

Continuing on my ride, I kept passing people and it wasn’t tough.  Having a lighter head wind no doubt helped, but still, I marvelled at how dynamic our body is to change to meet demand.  I wasn’t a spring chook, but here it was, after a few rides I was doing teenage tricks and getting faster by the moment, with not too much effort expended after all.

Having said this, plenty of people still passed me.  Seasoned cyclists, the types on road bikes with clips for their shoes etc.  Kudos.  And of course, a herd of new electric bike users.  I must say, some of those could get quite confronting.  Some almost look like a full on motorbike and so I’m never quite sure – should that thing be on the bike path or the road?  Anyway, all fun so far.

Overall, I pushed myself that whole ride, not too much, but enough to reach new ground.  I’ve found this with exercises and activity in general some times though.  Whether you’re running, cycling or lifting stuff into a trailer, sometimes you’re up and sometimes you’re down.  Based on the day, seemingly irrespective of anything else.  I pause to think now… there’s likely more science than that.  Could it be my nutrition leading up to activity?  As a novice, not for me to say just yet.  As a doctor, I’m curious and it’s leading me down a path to find out more.

At any rate, when I got home, some 24 and a bit kilometres later, I wasn’t so tired.  I felt that I was getting somewhere with this. It took me 1 hour and 10 mins.  Remembering that door to door my train commute was basically one hour, I knew my target and resolved to reel it in.  Beyond laziness, I still couldn’t find any reason not to ride to work.  So with that said, I knew I would keep at it.  And although painful at times, that any suffering I had along the way, mental and physical, was bound to make me stronger.

In closing, a shout out to my father in law Richard and my GP mentor, Peter for being people in my life who are riders and have inspired me.  Peter was my boss at one stage and used to ride to work to his GP clinic in Cheltenham, that thought and image stuck.  Richard – the next time you shoot off like a bullet – I’m coming for you!

Note: Otterboxes are still great phone cases.  Mine was vears old and broken, that’s why it fell off.  FYI, did you know the Otterbox was designed in Melbourne by Outerspace Design (https://outerspace.co/)  in Abbotsford.  I’ve met Fred and the team before – they’re great at what they do.  Sorry I keep trashing my Otterboxes Fred!

Once again – I wish I could say that any of this involved paid endorsements.  I’m still waiting for those phone calls!


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