A long time ago Nik Cee mentioned to me a race that he had run in Vancouver. He does that a lot, but this one seemed to stick out. It started in some far-flung suburban hellhole and ended back in the coddling warmth of the innercity. The idea itself was appealing enough, but what really roped me in was the name: Escape from the Suburbs.
This ride would be a little different to a regular alleycat. It was essentially a road race held on public roads – the start, checkpoint and finish would be announced in advance, giving riders a chance to plan their routes well in advance. Traffic would barely be an issue, as there would be long stretches of road without lights, intersections or cars. The winner would be the strongest rider with the best route.
A plan was put into place, a sweet flyer produced, and a few months down the track Blakey, Nik and I were on the platform at Clifton Hill station, waiting for the train to take us to Hurstbridge. Our lone checkpoint, Matty Bowen, swung by to talk some shit, speculate about potential winners and pick up the raffle tickets that riders would be given when they met up with him. These raffle tickets would put each rider in the running for a sweet fixie frame from CellBikes, as well as proving they had hit the checkpoint. Win-win.
The extent of our undertaking begun to reveal itself on the train. We’d planned to get there ten minutes before rego opened at two, but apparently a lot of others had planned the same. To make our lives a little easier we opened rego on the train, and handed out some badges (because spokecards are so played out). The train also took a long time. As the miles passed the scenery became more and more rural. Folks were a long way from home, and probably wouldn’t be too familiar with the terrain. We started to wonder if people would get lost forever, or get overwhelmed at the foot of a hill and simply give up, or bin it on one of the descents.
These concerns were put aside as we stepped out into the glorious Hurstbridge sunshine. There was a strong northerly blowing, which put a further smile on the faces of riders. We started registration, and quickly realized that we hadn’t made enough badges. We only had 70, and with one train still to arrive before the 3 o’clock kick off we were down to 6 badges. This problem was overcome by taking a distasteful page from the triathlete’s handbook – we wrote numbers on people.
There were, however, a few folks who looked comfortable with the big black numbers now gracing their arms – triathletes. With aerobars, deep dish carbon rims, and cue-cards taped to their forearms.
These folks were nicely contrasted by the usual assortment of hipsters with asymmetrical haircuts, teenage boys with roadbike conversions and aerospokes, hardcore fixie kids in trendy jerseys, and a handful of roadies.
One of these, in full Mapei kit, told us that he was on the way back from Kinglake and decided to check it out. The Brunswick Cycling Club A Team gave everyone a lesson in warming up by riding their bikes to the start – from Brunswick. Shifter Dan rolled up on his C-Record equipped hoopty bike. Andy “TC” White was seen on his roadie. Jay and Coopz rocked matching jerseys from Steady Rollin Crew.
A handful of women from the Thursday Night Ride crew formed a tight knit bunch – for the time being. Vanessa and Campbell rocked up together and were looking fast. Some kid – Eugene – was wearing a bright red cowboy hat instead of a helmet, but was quickly convinced that this was a bad idea. The Knog crew looked like they’d form a united front. In the end we registered 101 riders. Folks scooted over to the general store for last minute bottles of Powerade
and then milled around until briefing.
Briefing was mercifully kept quite short – riders were informed once again where the checkpoint would be – Doncaster Shoppingtown – and that presentations would occur at the museum at 5.30. If they were still rolling around the suburbs at 5 they were instructed that they should head home. They were then introduced to a new idea – the rolling start.
In order to avoid the chaos that usually marks the beginning of alleycats, riders all rolled out of Hurstbridge station together, forced (under threat of disqualification) to stay behind myself and Nik. Once Nik blew his whistle riders were free. As we came out of the station the cars banked up behind us. It was like we were the cool cousin of Critical Mass. Some roadie types, perhaps used to neutralized early miles, made their way to the front. When all riders were out of the station and on to the main road Nik blew his whistle and they were off.
Nik, Blakey and I went back to the station and cracked open some chips. Our train rolled in and one last rider jumped out. “Are you doing rego for Escape from the Suburbs?” He asked. “Am I too late?” We told him no and signed him up. “The checkpoint at Doncaster is going to leave at 4.30” I told him. “That won’t be a problem,” he replied, and took off.
The train seemed to take a long time to return to Clifton Hill. About twenty minutes in we started receiving text messages.
-101 riders? That’s insane!
-No one here yet.
-Traffic is HEAVY at this intersection. Lots of cops around.
-Andy just came through, then Brunswick. Andy went the wrong way!
-Brunswick through. No sign of Dan
-Dudes are walking up the hills
-I’m really spewing I snapped my roadie now (from Matty Bowen)
-Ben Ladner 1st, Sam 2nd. No sign of Andy
(phone call from Andy asking where the finish is. The museum, he was told.)
-Can’t wait 2 hear 1st fixed (one gear, one category – first fixed was Sam McGregor!)
-28 have come in
(phone call from Matty telling us some kid binned it on the hill into Doncaster. The kid is up and talking, but a bit shaky)
-45 are in. Vanessa first girl.
-see you in 5.
We exit the train and, with a quick detour to Nik’s to pick up the prizes, fairly gun it to the museum. When we roll up Tara tells us to go check in. Everyone looks a little wrecked. It’s only about 4.30 – there’s an hour til presentations, and riders are still coming in. This gives us a chance to talk to the riders, hear their stories and meet new friends. Some worlds are definitely colliding – roadies are talking to fixie hipsters, bicycles.net.au moderators are comparing routes with fixed.org.au trolls, men in full lycra kits are putting the hard word on women in cut-off jeans. It’s one of the reasons we were so keen to do this race – that it would appeal to a broad cross section of the cycling community – and seeing it happen is heartening to say the least.
When 5.30 came around we presented the following prizes:
DFL went to Tom, who sat around for ten minutes before checking in with Dawn and Casey at the finish.
The doofus award went to Eugene, for trying to attract cops with his cowboy hat. We gave him a helmet. He was later seen wearing it.
Most inappropriate bike went to Justin, who rode his Euro pursuit with a rear disc, no brakes and a dodgy lockring.
Biggest sacrifice to be there went to Beaker, whose wife was going into ‘pre’-labour that day.
Best Team went to the Thursday Night Ladies Crew
Oldest rider went to Mulger Bill, but probably should’ve gone to John. We gave them both prizes.
Youngest rider went to ChrisMark1.
Best attitude went to Giles, because he was number 48 and feeling great!
Best outfit – judged by Jona Gunn (pictured) of Coffee Supreme - went to Mapei Man, whose real name I think was Tim.
First noob went to Ollie ‘Fairtrade’ Phillips.
The one-gear podium looked like this:
1. Samuel Wallace McGregor (also his first race, but we couldn’t give him a noob award as well…)
2. Jay ‘Z’ Dougrey
3. Matt Gray
The women’s podium looked like this:
Left to Right:
1. Vanessa (also in her first race!)
2. Sarah Maree McNabbalinski
3. Jess (also in her first race!)
And the men’s podium looked like this:
Left to Right:
3rd - Jay 'Z' Dougrey
1st - Ben 'PB' Ladner, aka Brother Handsome
2nd - Samuel Wallace McGregor
These folks took home some pretty sweet prizes:
And Travis won the raffle! Travis not pictured. This is Kimmy Lees, barrel girl extraordinaire.
Thanks of course go to the organizing committee, Matty Bowen for manning the checkpoint out in the badlands, Dawn and Casey for keeping control of the finish – often in the face of disrespectful teenage boys (is that a tautology?), Tara Jayne for making both the inflammatory flyer and the badges, CellBikes for providing a frame, a wheelset and thousands of other little bits and pieces for us to give out, Natasha from Crumpler for continuing to support dodgy-looking dudes who want to put on bike races, Jona at Supreme for coffee and playing fashion judge when put on the spot, Kimmy Lees for pulling raffle tickets out of her brother’s hat and screeching out the numbers, DC at Fitzroy Revolution for the helmet, Brent “Velcro” MacKenzie for the Tattoo Voucher, the Littlest Baker for very well-received cupcakes, the people of Hurstbridge for being patient in the face of so much bike traffic, and everyone else for riding, sweating, occasionally walking, sometimes vomiting, constantly smiling and generally having a good time.
Photos c/o Blakey and Chaz. Used without permission, as per usual.