“Ask any racer, any real racer, it doesn’t matter if you win by an inch or a mile…”
– Dominic Toretto
Wait no, wrong movie… Ask any road cyclist, any real road cyclist (in Australia) and they’ll have heard of Melbourne’s famous – or infamous – Beach Road. On any morning of the year, if you took a satellite image of the entire “Beach Road” stretch, you’d probably be able to count well over 1000 cyclists. No word of a lie.
When they say Beach Road is one of the most ridden roads in Australia, they aren’t kidding! I have never experienced anything like the Beach Road in all my cycling years. I have ridden a virtual Beach Road many times on FulGaz, and have flown over to Melbourne on business a few of times to ride it for real. It’s a real Fast and Furious big ring blast!
Every morning of the week (and basically all day long) you will find bunches – some organised some impromptu – cruising up and down Beach Road. Although the coastal road does extend north to Port Melbourne and right down south to Frankston, the majority of riders are concentrated between the popular Saint Kilda – Black Rock – Mordialloc stretch.
Riding on Beach Road, it’s inevitable that you will in some way interact with other cyclists. Whether that be passing a slower rider, being passed by a stronger rider, finding a stranger drafting your wheel, or getting swept up by a bunch. These interactions are all part of the Beach Road experience. Ride the Beach Road enough and you’ll likely find a bunch that suits your strength and ability.
It’s a different experience that’s for sure. Here in Tasmania if you approach another rider, you wouldn’t simply hop on their wheel without at least saying hello. On the Beach Road though, it’s par for the course. You’ll often be doing your own thing, only to glance around and find a rider (or two or three or four) glued to your rear wheel unannounced. Don’t consider it rude, it’s just how it is there, something to be aware of.
Also something to be aware of is the standard of riding! This does vary somewhat. Okay, that’s an understatement. You’ll most likely come across the entire spectrum of road cyclists. Everyone from professional cyclists and A-graders speeding down the road in tight formation, right down to clueless flogs who can be a downright liability on two wheels.
I don’t claim to be a perfect bunch rider, but I can hold my own and consider myself safe. On the Beach Road, I’ve experienced it all. There was the absolute chopper who tried to plough straight through the middle of our double pace line as we slowed for a hazard – it’s not a Zwift race! Then the triathlon club bunch ride – all on TT bikes – who displayed group skills so bad a blind epileptic with Parkinson’s could hold a better line.
Needless to say, you need to keep your senses sharp when mixing it on Beach Road. Most of the time the standard of riding I’ve come across has been fine and to the seasoned roadie, the dangerous hubbards are easily spotted. Find yourself in a cooperative, skilled bunch of a similar strength to yourself and the Beach Road can be an absolute dream ride.
Some groups don’t mind if you tag along and roll turns with them, while others may have a “back marker” who makes sure there’s no uninvited guests. That’s fair enough too. If asked to hang back a few wheels, be courteous and do so. You’ll still catch a good draft and not interfere with their ride.
Then of course, there’s the Melbourne Hell Ride! Leaving every Saturday at 7am from the Black Rock Clock Tower, this is a ride to behold. On a sunny Saturday, the bunch can swell to well over 200 riders of varying abilities, going absolutely hell for leather!
I joined the Hell Ride once, and it was an experience. Right from the start it was FAST! I was doing my best to remain tucked into the train, being dragged along at 50kph, putting out “hurtbox watts” just to hold the wheel in front of me. The guys near the front of the bunch were not messing about! Try as I might to stay in that front bunch, I lasted all of 15km before the elastic snapped and they pulled away.
Speaking of near the front. Up in the front quarter of the Hell Ride peloton, the riding is on point. Hand signals, smooth lines, tight wheels, rolling turns. Many of these guys are sponsored team riders or high grade local racers. Further towards the back, it’s basically Armageddon. Get stuck near the tail end and it’s every man for himself. A catastrophe of overlapping wheels, five or six riders wide across both lanes.
Don’t be put off by the Hell Ride though, there’s much more to the Beach Road than one massive ride on a Saturday morning. It doesn’t take much to find a friendly bunch that suits your riding style.
Spoiler alert: Views of the crystal clear waters and iconic Melbourne beaches while you are actually riding Beach Road can be sporadic. Be sure to stop somewhere for that Instagram photo opportunity!
The Beach Road itself may not be the prettiest road, or the most scenic, or even the most memorable stretches of roads on face value, but it’s well worth a ride just to experience Melbourne cycling culture. It’s a blast to get out there with quite literally hundreds of other roadies, all doing what they love.
Plus there’s no shortage of fantastic Melbourne cafés to grab a post-ride coffee at!