Chris Rogers, owner of Pedal Cyclery in Preston, Melbourne, is more than just a cycling enthusiast. He is a bike curator and an artist who has taken his passion for all things cycling and turned it into a thriving business with a powerful message on the future of sustainability. Here, he shares his love for Melbourne’s cycling culture and his top recommendations for anyone looking to explore this cosmopolitan and scenic city by bike.
Rogers has been tinkering with bicycles his whole life. Today he sits proudly at the front desk of his workshop in Preston, which took him and his team six months to get just how they wanted it – all exposed bricks and handcrafted work benches and cupboards. The warehouse building suits Melbourne, with its raw edges, concrete-washed floors and a good cup of coffee always on offer. The open space invites customers to see the inner workings of the shop, and Rogers’ crew are hard at work with the day’s schedule of draining bike fluid from frames and adjusting spokes on wheels. With rap playing in the background, the space oozes a cool and contemporary vibe. Frames, wheels and other bicycle parts hang suspended from the ceiling and along the walls. To the back of the workshop, a garden oasis allows customers to relax while waiting for tweaks and adjustments on their bikes.
At the front of the shop, a rack of beautifully curated, retro bicycles are stacked against the window, waiting to be purchased. This was after all how Pedal Cyclery started. “I think it was 2008 when I started buying second-hand bike steel frames,” says Rogers. “I would rebuild them into a new, working bike, and it just rekindled the enjoyment I used to get from putting bikes together when I was younger.” The laid-back owner goes on to explain how retro bikes, especially from the 1980s and 1990s have excellent quality building blocks, such as their frames, which can be cleaned up and built into new perfectly working bikes. “I kept what was good and of quality, and added new when it was needed,” he explains, pointing to a stylish looking bike with new wheels and that lovely retro frame which is so ‘in’ these days. “I then started fixing my friends’ bikes; they would throw 10 bucks my way, insisting on paying me, and it grew from there. Soon I was fixing friends of friends’ bikes.”
While Rogers started out in Sydney, where he grew up, the bike culture there didn’t fit his cycling dream and ethos. “I love the European view of cycling, which is seen as just another mode of transport, viewed in the same way as cars – no elitism and no hostilities to sharing the road.” But Rogers hated riding in Sydney; in fact, he felt unsafe on the roads. “Melbourne’s cycling infrastructure is so much better, the layout is very different. The cities have just evolved differently. Sydney is windy and hilly, there’s no space for cycle lanes, whereas Melbourne is very grid-like with straight roads, so it’s much easier to integrate dedicated cycling channels.”
Sydney’s real estate was expensive, too, prompting Rogers to make the move to Melbourne he had been considering for many years. Eight years later, Rogers has built up a network of people who bring their old bikes in to see if any of the parts are salvageable. “Global mass production means more products nowadays are made at a lower quality than in the past. As a bicycle builder, I have access to high-quality parts available on the second-hand market, and an eye for good quality, so there is no question as to whether or not to incorporate these parts into our process. The less that has to be newly produced, the better.” This is the company’s ethos, and it extends to the relationship with its customers, educating them on how to get the best from their bicycle.
According to the City of Melbourne’s March 2017 cycling census, bicycles made up 16 per cent of all vehicle movements into the city during the morning peak period. Melburnians are shaping a great cycling culture, and the data shows that more people are using their bikes for health and recreation or as a sustainable, efficient and affordable mode of transport. Part of the city’s sustainability programme is to ensure that one in every four vehicles entering the city is a bicycle by 2020, ultimately reducing the city’s carbon emissions and working towards actively reducing the effects of climate change.
“For people apprehensive about taking up cycling, there is no need to be,” explains Rogers. “Melbourne is full of great routes that can get you where you need to be.” He recommends starting off with Google Maps, which has the option of selecting bike-safe routes. Beyond that, Melbourne’s city councils have put a great amount of effort into creating safe passage for cyclists and are proactive in building cycling numbers on the dynamic city’s roads. With shimmy paths, cyclists can map out a direct route with registered backstreet avenues that are safer for cyclists, offering alternatives to busy and congested main roads.“There’s a lot of riding to be had, no matter if you are in the city [centre], or in which direction you decide to exit from,” adds Rogers.
What he loves most about cycling in Melbourne is the freedom of exploration. “You’re never stuck in traffic when you’re on a bike,” he says, “you’re always moving and producing feel-good endorphins.” And when it comes to getting out there, there is a plethora of cycling avenues for training or recreation. “The creek trails are fabulous,” states Rogers. “They’re all quite scenic and lead to the bay.” He recommends trying:
– Merri Creek Trail, which runs for 21 kilometres (13mi) from Bell Street Coburg to Collingwood Children’s Farm
– Darebin Creek Trail, a 26-kilometre (16mi) route, which follows Darebin Creek in the inner and outer northern suburbs of Melbourne
– Monee Ponds Creek Trail, which starts at the Docklands and runs for 25 kilometres (15.5mi)
– The Yarra River Trail, an essential tourist ride of 22 kilometres (14mi)
– Capital City Trail, a 30-kilometre (18.7mi) loop that surrounds the city
For those wanting more adventurous or off-road cycling, Rogers suggests the foothills of Kinglake, an area 56 kilometres (35mi) north-east of the CBD, or to brave the inclines of the Dandenong Ranges. “You can follow the M3 from the city, and the trail takes you to the base of the ranges,” says Rogers. “But it would be a big day ride.”
For “gravel-grinding”, as he puts it, or off-road biking, the Wombat State Forest has some excellent and picturesque trails and, only an hour’s drive from Melbourne, it can also be accessed by two train lines. “The Macedon Shire offers endless dirt roads, and I particularly like the area around Woodend,” says Rogers.
Don’t forget Melbourne has strict helmet laws, so you’ll need to use one, or pick up your own for 5 Australian dollars (£2.50) from vending machines at Southern Cross Station, the University of Melbourne, or various retail outlets across the city. Happy pedalling!