Wednesday, November 18, 2009


When I landed in Australia, I was quite sure I had arrived in something of a new world.  Besides the now inane and frankly quite annoying hoodie that was hung over my shoulders, there were other more frank signs.  The scrubby landscape dotted with short, squat trees that spread out before the plane was one, and the bus ride from the airport was another.  On the 40 minute trip I saw that far from the charming townships of Western Europe, Melbourne appeared to be a replicate of a sprawling American town.  McDonalds and Pizza Huts dotted the off ramps, which aside from the traffic moving on the left side of the road, appeared exactly the same as the exits in America.  Arriving at the Southern Cross station in Downtown Melbourne, my suspicions were confirmed--I wasn't in Kansas anymore.  Not to mention I'd been quite spoiled by Western Europe's bicycle cultures.

I uttered an audible "My God..."  Instead of the thousands of bicycles found outside Amsterdam Centraal, I saw this lonely looking pile of bikes just inside the Southern Cross Station.  This photo manages to portray many of my initial thoughts on Australia: a small number of well made and carefully placed bike racks that are used to capacity represents a bicycle culture struggling to be born. 

Regardless of how mainstream cycling is in Melbourne, there is no doubt that the cycling subcultures are strong.  Within three days of my arrival, I had the great fortune of staffing a checkpoint at an all-girls Halloween alleycat.  

We were stationed at the Melbourne General Cemetary and asked to administer the wrapping of costumed, racing ladies in toilet paper.  The indistinguishable white block at the bottom of this photo is a full 8 rolls of toilet paper.  We had a great time; that is, we the checkpoint operators had a great time.  The girls, on the other hand, were less than enthused upon arriving--huffing and puffing--to find that they were required to wrap their partner in toilet paper.  Our guess is their chagrin was heightened in part due to the use of eco-friendly toilet paper, which while undoubtedly extraordinary for the fishes of the sea, was excessively frail for sweaty girls in a hurry.  The flimsy toilet paper tore if you just looked at it wrong.  Still, we had a helluva time watching the madness:  
Among the racing ladies were two courageous folks riding a tandem.  Though they passed through our checkpoint dead last, we decided they were our favorite--and should win a handsome prize.  What, with the fact that they rode a damn tandem in an alleycat race!   

After the all-girls alleycat concluded, the first in a three-part race called the "Courier Cup" took place.   As with the girl's race, costumes were encouraged--and a prize was awarded for the best male costume.  Checkpoints were selected based on their ability to form a pentagram on the map.  Again working as a volunteer checkpointer, I was stationed this time across from the cemetery at an appropriately evil address: 666 Lygon St.  I snapped one photo of the racers, and it so happened that it was the photo of none other than the man who won the costume contest.  Ya know him, you love him: The Lone Ranger! 

So you're wondering, 'Is he riding a horse in the alleycate?'  Well, yes...Sorta.  He attached a carboard cut-out horse to his bicycle frame, which along with his handcuffs and mock-up pistol made for a fetching outfit!  

In appropriate alleycat style, a massive after-party was organized at "Pony Bikes." The shop is relatively new and appears to cater to the single speed and fixed gear crowd.  Our master of ceremonies at said fiesta can be seen below wearing an attractive sundress.  
The crowd was wild with anticipation as our bearded man in a dress handed out prizes to the winners.  Obscured by the rabble here is a barbecue where sausages and vegan soup were served up for 5 bucks.  
And of course, there's the bike polo.  Because Melbourne will host the Australian Bicycle Polo National Championships at the end of this month, there is a ton of excitement in the South Australian air.  The crew here in Melbourne, as with all bike polo people I've met so far, is filled with spectacular humans.  They play twice a week, on Tuesday nights and Sunday afternoons into the evening, and as with other polo folks nobody can seem to get enough.  

The court pictured above is outside of a primary school in the suburb of Carlton.  The courts here aren't nearly as perfect for polo as the courts I saw in Amsterdam and London, so we have to pull boards out of storage and lug them to the courts to create proper sides.  It's a bit of a pain, but once the game is on its worth all the effort.  

The Nationals are gonna be great.  I've sustained a bit of a hip injury, but I'm hoping to be up to par within the next week or so.  As some of you have reminded me, and as I've confirmed, I have become a bit of a bike polo nut.

In other news, I've found an amazing community bike project here in Melbourne.  It's located at "Ceres," a center for the promotion of environmentally sustainable practices built on an old trash dump.  The bike program is simply called "The Bikeshed."  
It's a lot like Revolutions was before Mr. Kyle Wagenschutz helped the shop to formalize and run more smoothly.  Folks show up, they pay a small fee, and we help them fix up their bikes.  The bikes pictured here are available for sale and repair.  

After a long day of bike repair in the increasingly warm Australian atmosphere, it's necessary to take part in that oh so important aspect of bicycle cultures: 

1 comment:

  1. Hi, a few of us in Newcastle have a similar blog going. We would love to hear some Melbournite's views!