The Truth About Melbourians

Written by  April 17, 2013

This is the story of one late-night bicycle ride in a big, new city.

My friend from class sends me a text early on in the night telling me he’d be in a part of the city not far from me and that we should catch up. When you’re on exchange you take opportunities to hang out with your new friends pretty seriously because, hey—you don’t have as many friends over here and the whole “forever alone” aspect of your life seems a lot more apparent when you’re five hundred thousand miles away from your family. I reply to his offer: “Rad, thatʼs like a 20-minute bike ride from me.”

I settle on taking the bike for two reasons: 1) I have a bike. It was left here by my landlord who explicitly stated that he “did not care whatever happened to that piece of junk.” 2) The transit system in Melbourne is slow at best and non-existent after 12:15 am. So biking was my most attractive (or at least time-efficient) option.

After lugging the bike down the apartment complex’s stairs I get it safely onto the sidewalk and realize I have forgotten the combination to the lock. I sigh, cursing my memory and then lugging it back upstairs to our place. Just as I resolve to walk an hour and maybe risk taking the tram I have a sudden epiphany and remember the combo, go back to get the bike and hop on.

Firstly, riding a bike in the daytime in Melbourne is risky enough, let alone at night. Although there are bike lanes and generally the drivers are nicer than those at home in Toronto, it’s still risky business. But off I go, peddling furiously and making sure I keep to the left—a weird enough concept in a huge metal box on wheels (a car) made even more vital to be in the right lane when you’re on a rickety old two-wheeler.

Here I was, zooming around the beautiful Australian city of Melbourne at night. Well I wasnʼt zooming. In fact, it’s actually a mountain bike so the smooth, hill-less ride was actually surprisingly difficult. Something you should know about Melbourne bike culture (and any person with eyes figures it out pretty quickly) is that the aesthetics of bikes here are taken fairly seriously. There are fixies (one-gear bikes; both vintage and new-to-look-vintage bikes being toted by similarly hip riders with matching hair colours and baskets for carrying pugs or organic groceries; serious businessmen on sleek black street bikes with tires so thin they look almost menacing; and teenagers that buzz around on bikes that look like they’d be a better fits for a 10-year-old but somehow they make look cool by keeping their butts off the seats indefinitely. And of course helmets: you can’t forget about this essential piece of fashionable headgear—oops, I mean practical safety wear.

Now, if you can, picture me: old, clunky white mountain bike complete with shocks (there are no hills, no curbs, no flaws in the pavement of Melbourne’s roads to make these even sort of necessary) and a really dorky old helmet—the kind with the holes that sits on the very top of your head and is shiny red and white foam core. Plus, I don’t really know how to change gears. These fashionable nightriders pass me on my jaunt. I feel the hot, judgmental gaze of young people walking off to clubs and parties in little skirts and dress shoes snickering at me from the sidewalk.

I’m about half way to the bar when my phone vibrates: “$15 cover, hope that’s okay.” I guess it’s alright—I hadn’t peddled like a crazy person all the way to Chapel street to turn back now. I text him when I get closer asking where it the place is exactly to which he replies, “Itʼs across from 7/11, look for the line of people.” Cover and a line? I am sweaty and wearing a leather jacket, and big Doc Martens accessorized by my bicycle ensemble. I look despairingly at the girls in heels in line smilingly coyly at the bouncer as he compares their pink lipsticked smiles to the monochrome image on their licenses. I tell my friend Iʼll have to catch up with him another time.

As it was much later on the ride home, every set of lights I stop at seemed to wield an encounter with a drunken man making his way across the road saying something to me like, “can you make it ring?” referring semi-coherently to my little bicycle bell. I cringe or laugh, or both. I stop to pick up my roommate from the bar she works at just after midnight. As I lock up my bike another man approaches me and asks if I am stealing the white, two-wheeled wonder. I explain to him that no, I donʼt think anyone would want to steal that bike. He is 31, slightly intoxicated, and confesses to me that he is at a crossroads in life and might move out to see his brother in Hong Kong and agrees that yes, no one in Melbourne would attempt to steal my bike. Eventually he stumbled off into the night but not before two 21-year-old Canadian girls had assured him that he should follow his dreams and go globetrotting and soul searching in China. We high-fived and he was gone.

As I lock up my bike back at the apartment I smile (code 2929! success!), I guess I had had quite enough adventure—and exercise—for one Thursday night in Melbourne. I didnʼt get out to party with my friends, but I think I still met an odd amount of people on a one-hour ride on a silly bike late at night. But thatʼs Melbourne and Melbournians for you: outwardly so intimidatingly fashionable, but really, just looking for someone to strike up friendly (sometimes drunken) conversation with.

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Published in Study Abroad Blogs
Phoebe Todd-Parrish

Phoebe Todd-Parrish is an ambitious and adventurous student of Visual Arts at York University in Toronto, who long ago conceded to the cliché of having "caught the travel bug." This itch for new sites and sounds to dazzle her senses landed her across the world in Melbourne, Australia, where she's studying abroad for a semester at Monash University. She can't wait to share all her (mis)adventures and discoveries.

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