December 28, 2021|Fitness From the Director

A Novice’s Guide to Commuting to Melbourne CBD by Bike

It had been on my mind a while – to start riding my bike to work rather than catching the train in.  And then all sorts of disruption hit my usual train line and it tipped me over the edge.  One morning, my train terminated early and I needed to catch instead a bus to the city.  And it was on that bus ride that the thought of riding grew into a true “must do”.

I began my research considering what “bike” I’d use.  I had my old mountain bike in the garage, the same bike I’d used as a university student.  It had a flat tyre these days.  20 years on, it was ok, but I must confess, I thought that getting a new bike would help to motivate me further.

The bike

I considered just that – a “new” bike and had a look at a few.  But I quickly knew too well that I wasn’t deserving of “flash” gear unless I proved myself and became a regular rider.  Besides, I was using the bike to commute rather than crack any time trials.  So, for me, an old school bargain hunter, second hand it was going to be.

Mountain or road bike?  That was the next question. Mountains are tougher and more comfortable, but heavier.  Roads are lighter and faster, but not as comfortable or tough.  And hybrids, are a mix between the two.  I wasn’t going to ride on the road, and didn’t want to be too uncomfortable, so I didn’t warm to that thought.  Yet the thought of travelling regularly on a bike that was overly heavy and slow equally didn’t appeal.  Stuck in the middle, a hybrid sounded like it.

Now, I must confess that I am a brand person and so I had already decided on a “Trek”.  I had bought my wife a second hand Trek mountain bike when we were back at university and it was still going strong today, so I didn’t have a reason to stray.  So I hit the online streets of eBay, Gumtree and Facebook Marketplace.  I looked at many second hand bikes online, and called a few.  Like buying a car, I do ask about the history of the bike, and some sellers were so coy about this, I was pretty suss that they were selling stolen bikes!  Eventually, I settled on a Trek FX 7.5 – about 5 years old.  Pretty standard brakes – cable with brake pads, but a good gear set – Shimano Tiagra.  For those of you that don’t know, newer bikes have hydraulic disc brakes.  The gear sets are generally made by Shimano and as you spend more money, you naturally get a better gear set.  Tiagra – is pretty good.  Advertised for $450, bought for $400 – sweet.

The bag

Over the next few days I started to get excited about it and my next decision was what bag I was going to take to work now that I was going to be riding?  I needed a backpack.  Once again being a sentimentalist, I remembered that at university I had a Caribee backpack and so I was partial to that brand.  Thinking about university whilst thinking of riding was a natural tendency, since that’s the last time I really rode a lot to commute and I retained fond memories of that.  And so I strode into Anaconda to peruse the backpacks.  I ended up purchasing a Caribee Trek – huh!  Perfect.  No in all seriousness, apart from the name, it had ample pockets and a concealed rain cover which I thought was pretty useful given I live in Melbourne.  Price $109.  When I strolled up to the counter to pay, they asked me if I was a member, I said – not sure.  Evidently I wasn’t, but my wife was and so the price came down to $79!  I knew she was a good woman ? I still don’t know what the point is to be a “member” of all these stores, but clearly saving money is the only required justification.

My goal takes shape

And so, I was ready.  With escalating excitement, I called a friend and let him know about my adventure, now set for tomorrow.  His first sentence back was “Floyd, you’re going to get a sore bum”.  I thought, no way, I rode bikes all the time as a kid and couldn’t remember getting a sore bum.  But he was pretty adamant that I was going to get a sore bum.  He mentioned that there are better seats you can get to help improve things.  Party pooper.  I carried on to a friend’s house where I was due to drop off his Christmas present.  I gave him his present and of course, couldn’t help but talk about my adventure.  “Floyd, you’re going to get a sore bum”.  Now things were getting serious.  He showed me his bike shorts that had generous amounts of padding in the crotch.  Looked a bit odd, but functional I was told.  Suddenly I had a new respect for all those cyclists who wear bike shorts.  All along I thought it was about fashion and a vain attempt at aerodynamics – what for.  But now, I got it, they’re avoiding getting a sore bum.  That’s more than fair and to be respected.

With two friends telling me the same thing on the same day, I was now positively scared into submission.  I went straight back to Anaconda, explained my dilemma and found one of the few remaining padded bike shorts.  It was a size small, not my size, but who cares, something was going to be better than nothing.  I got a hold of a sales assistance and mentioned my fears about getting a sore bum.  He said he loved riding and understood what I was worried about.  He then went on to let me know that he had ridden the Great Victorian Bike Ride that was 500km and despite no special padding, didn’t get a sore bum. Great I thought, now I’ve got a wise guy making me feel soft for being worried about what everyone told me I should worry about.  Nevertheless, he was still sympathetic and showed me a special gel pad for the bike seat.  I’ll take that too!  And finally a drink bottle, it’s fun to guzzle and ride.  With my wife’s membership discount – $56.98 total.

And so I was in business for my Great Melbournian Bike ride!  My goal now defined, “To not get a sore bum and enjoy the ride”… with the understanding that one was contingent on the other!

Ride day

It was Christmas Eve morning and I was getting set to go.  Someone I had casually met whilst walking to the station (yes I was telling strangers about my quest) said that he occasionally rode to the city and it took him 1 hour.  Ok I thought, then I’ll plan to give myself 2 hours.  That guy looked fit!  With work starting at 9:30am in the city, I was ready to go just after 7:30am.  My daughter, quite excited, came out to take some photos of me setting off.  I felt famous after all, like a real adventurer.

As I rode, it felt good. I passed familiar territory at the start, so nothing quite so new there.  The bike was handling well, certainly moving faster and more freely than my old mountain bike.  I was riding on the bike path and I saw many people zoom passed me on Beach Road.  Kudos to them, they looked like they had done this a hundred times before.  However, I remembered my goal, to not get a sore bum and enjoy the ride.  With that mission intact, I stuck to my own leisurely pace.

By the time I got to Brighton, my bum was a wee bit sore, but nothing a bit of standing up didn’t fix.  I reached down and grabbed my water bottle.  A drink certainly was a great distraction.  I kept riding.  The scenery I must say was beautiful.  I’ve always been partial to the sea and looking out whilst riding my bike made me feel all that more alive.

Soon enough I was at Elwood, then bang – St Kilda. When I got to St Kilda, I took a wrong turn and found myself on a path that was gravel.  I was a bit too rough for my bike, so I bailed and hopped on the road.  Suddenly I found myself riding on the road with cars zooming passed.  It didn’t feel so disconcerting, having ridden lots as a university student on the road, and indeed as a kid, I didn’t think it would.  But being a doctor, and understanding that accidents happen through no fault of a cyclist sometimes, that thought remained and admittedly was hard to shrug.  At Port Melbourne then, I could again see the bike path, and promptly got back on it.  Riding through Port Melbourne was a blast, in part because I always wanted to.  So many times, whilst sitting in a car, I’d seen all sorts of people walking, riding and skating on that path, that I had longed to be a part.  And now I was.  Up ahead, I could see the Spirit of Tasmania docked and it got bigger and bigger as I approached.  Once again, many road cyclists were passing me and I noticed some of them turn right at Kerford Road.  The thought then hit me, how exactly do I get to the city from here?  If I keep following this bike path, does it end up in the city?  I realised I didn’t actually know.  I had to stop, reach for my phone, and have a look on Google Maps.  It told me I had to back track, back to Pickles street and so I did that.  The next part of my journey was a bit clumsy as I rode on the road with no bike path, and then when I lost my nerve, veered back on the undulating footpath, only to get lose my patience there, and opt for the road again.  Eventually, somehow, I got to the city.

Even better, whilst riding on one city street, I even found two dollars on the road.  I rode passed it first, only to get that feeling of – what are you doing riding passed two dollars!  So I turned around, and after a brief phase of careful inspection, found it and picked it up.  There you go, I thought, not only did I save money by riding, I made money!

It was an awesome feeling being in the city with my bike.  Sweet liberty.  I got to the front door of the clinic at 9:15am.  Not bad considering I got a bit lost and did enjoy the ride.  My bum had its moments of soreness along the way, but as I dismounted, I was fine.  My back was a bit sweaty, but really, given I was riding at a leisurely pace, I wasn’t that hot or flustered really.  Most importantly, I had made it ?

During the day, I got a few messages of “congratulations” and remarks about how much energy I had.  I felt very guilty about that.  The fact is, if you ride slowly, it’s really just enjoyable.  And sure, you should still burn energy and it should be good for fitness, but it doesn’t feel like that much of a stretch at all.  So as much as I enjoyed and appreciated the attention, I was shy for it all the same.

Preparing for the ride back home

Well before I actually started riding back, I thought I really needed something to mount my phone on, for navigation purposes.  So I went to a city bike shop – Good Cycles, and found one such holder.  It was a Busch Muller.  I also asked if they had another pair of shorts with the padding, that was my size, just in case that made a difference.  They did.  I bought the two, a bit more pricey as a total $150, but I didn’t want my phone to fall off and again, rear comfort was a key objective!  I also asked about a repair kit.  The man explained to me the ins and outs of repairing a punctured tyre when you’re on a ride.  It’s really a case of swapping the tube, rather than repairing anything, which made more sense.  But we both concluded that if I get a puncture on my first ride, then that’s such bad luck I should quit forever!  And so, I didn’t buy a repair kit.  Phone dock now on my handle bars, I set off.

The ride back home

From my experience in the morning, and with Google maps now by my side, or more accurately, in front of me, I was going well, until once again, I lost my way just out of the city, and again, found myself backtracking and riding on the road.  This time, I was at least on a road, Ferrars Street to be precise, that did have a bike lane and then low and behold, I turned onto Kerford Road, that also had a defined bike lane.  Perhaps this was the correct way after all.  I got onto that familiar bike path at Port Melbourne except this time, I had a head wind.  Nothing dramatic, just present.  Still all the surrounding sights and sounds, sun and movement was absolutely splendid riding through Port Melbourne into St Kilda.

And this time, I managed to stay on the bike track through St Kilda, so no need to get on the road.  As I rode passed areas of St Kilda, I realised that I hadn’t been there for ages, if not ever.  The weather was perfect, the beach was pretty crowded and I absolutely felt like a tourist in my own home town.  I paused at the good fortune of that thought, feeling like a tourist in your own home town, commuting back from work.  Life was good.  I pushed on, stopping to take photos as I went, in true tourist style.  My phone holder was doing a great job, letting me quickly snap my phone out of it and then letting me secure it again on the bike easily.  Perfect and highly recommended.  At one point, I did get a wave of paranoia that my zips were open on my backpack.  That forced me to stop and check, everything was fine, the Caribee was all good.  I had a drink and kept going.  Again, no rush. As I got through Brighton, up ahead with a guy and girl jogging, with another girl on a bike accompanying them.  Finally, a reason to ring my bell!  “Ding Ding”, they moved aside and let me through.  I kept going and eventually, once again, approached more familiar territory of Hampton.

There was a straight at Hampton that I pushed my legs a bit, to blow out a few cobwebs.  Gearing up felt good.  The bike was still responsive.  After a stretch of pushing myself, I took the feet off the accelerator and enjoyed it again.  Along the way, my bum was sore here and there, but nothing a bit of stretching didn’t fix.

And so, I eventually saw the finish line at Black Rock and it was good.  I slowed down stopped, sat down and breathed in the sea breeze, closing my eyes for a few moments.  24km – done.  I opened them, looked over to my parked bike, which I had bonded with enough to make it seem like a horse, and said – this was good.  My goal had been realised – I rode to the city and back, enjoyed it and didn’t get a sore bum.  I looked to the side and noticed that same girl, guy and cyclist run by me, pacing themselves, kudos – inspirational.

The takeaways from my experience:

  1. You don’t have to spend thousands of dollars to get started
  2. You don’t have to be that fit to do it, just give yourself plenty of time
  3. You don’t have to get a sore bum (I think my shorts and gel seat helped!)
  4. Try not to get lost
  5. A drink bottle is helpful, maybe not essential, but certainly a bit of fun and comfort to have on the go
  6. If you’re timid of riding on the road, there are plenty of great bike paths out there
  7. A bike gives you a sense of exploration
  8. Choose a bike that’s fit for purpose

As for me, I’m sold and so I’m planning in the New Year (2022) on riding to the city three times a week – for fitness, the environment and sheerly for the fun ? 

Dr Floyd Gomes

Note that there were no paid endorsements for writing this article.  I wish there were though, that’d mean I’ve moved on from being a novice!

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