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In the group’s own words, The Soup Boys “was borne of a desire to make new friends and build a community around rap music, motorsport, art and lazily riding bicycles.”

Founded in 2013, the collective formed through post-university-class bike rides from a café in Melbourne’s CBD, but has since expanded to include members from around Victoria, and South Australia.
 
This April, a handful of Soup Boys members and friends set off up the Hume Highway from Melbourne to Canberra. Their goal: to spend a weekend exploring the Australian capital, and to put their own quirky spin on the cycling roadtrip. Here’s how the trip unfolded.

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In the group’s own words, The Soup Boys “was borne of a desire to make new friends and build a community around rap music, motorsport, art and lazily riding bicycles.”

Founded in 2013, the collective formed through post-university-class bike rides from a café in Melbourne’s CBD, but has since expanded to include members from around Victoria, and South Australia.
 
This April, a handful of Soup Boys members and friends set off up the Hume Highway from Melbourne to Canberra. Their goal: to spend a weekend exploring the Australian capital, and to put their own quirky spin on the cycling roadtrip. Here’s how the trip unfolded.

Video by Mal Bloedel | Words by Adrian Zanardo | Photos by Josh Thomas, Dean Tran, Adrian Zanardo and Ron Nott

A crack front bench of ministers had been appointed, a weekend away planned. From the humble residence of Soup Boys HQ in Melbourne’s inner north west we would journey to our fine nation’s capital. We weren’t sure if we would unlock secrets to winning the federal election, but we were sure that in one way or another, we would be rewriting the book on cycling road trips.

Saturday morning. 3am. After a six-hour drive from Melbourne, Ben (Minister of Industry & Mechanics) and I (Minister for Planning) were centimetres from resting our weary heads on our pillows. And then the call came through — we’d have to return to the Hume Highway a little earlier than our envisaged Sunday afternoon drive home.

An 80km fuel range reading, 85km from the nearest fuel at the Yass roadhouse, meant the second CyclingTips-Holden team car — the more fuel efficient of the two — was left stranded on the side of the road with four Soup Boys and a videographer aboard.

With a watertight itinerary planned out, which included a contingency plan should it be required, we’d planned to arrive in Canberra between 11pm and midnight. Instead we pulled up outside our accommodation (for the second time) at 4:20am.

Off to a good start.

Day 1: The Big One

Canberra

Waking up on a frosty Canberran morning, the question was whether we would somehow manage to set a new benchmark in the art of screwing up a cycling trip. Our Governor General (and videographer), Mal, having been on a number of Roadtripping adventures in the past, wasn’t willing to offer any feedback … yet. Maybe he was worried about what lay ahead, maybe he was afraid of offending us. But we stuck by the belief that he, like us, was still mostly asleep.

With the exception of Ben, who had a Capital Punishment MTB race under his belt, none of us had ridden in Canberra before, and only a few of us had ever visited. That meant our to-do list was a little unconventional.

Cooking ourselves on the bike was an inevitability, but we also hoped to enrich ourselves with the city’s architecture, cuisine and #culture. If we said our prayers loud enough, and if our Lord Tom Boonen looked down upon us lovingly, we would run into ex-politician Clive Palmer and get the opportunity to ask him about his bizarre Twitter antics.

Our “watertight itinerary” had been wistfully thrown out the window and onto the side of the Federal Highway at around 4:18am. A sleep-in beyond the previously planned 6am start was deemed absolutely necessary to have any hope in hell of making it through the day we had in store. Thus the revised roll-out time was somewhere mid morning. Even that was naive.

Through being distracted by the gang of BMX riders staying next door (#rivalry, but also #relatable), obsessively tinkering with bikes (some succeeding, most failing) and still trying to wake up, that mid-morning Plan B roll-out predictably turned into a Plan C few-minutes-before-noon kind of roll-out.

As a group we cruised down Northbourne Avenue, claiming the lane and stretching legs that longed for lactic acid and fresh air. The Scott missile squadron, a mix of Addict Discs and Foils, was coloured in the fastest hues and kept in the big ring to ensure a hasty take-off should it have been required.

The beauty had us awestruck — such artistry had not been witnessed since Ernesto himself designed the Ferrari Colnago. It was a true medley of amazement, unsurprisingly turning heads when we all pulled up to Sweet Bones cafe in Braddon, for a lunch that was supposed to have been breakfast. It was 1pm by the time lunch wrapped up, and the day’s ride really began.

In the weeks leading up we had consulted some Canberra ex-pat close friends of Soup Boys Cycling (Simon and Paddy). They salivated at the prospect of planning our rides, particularly when we told them we wanted to feel cooked by the end of it all.

We cruised towards Mt Stromlo for what was going to be a 200km, 4,000 vertical metre day … or our last. The time was 2pm and we had ridden only a handful of kilometres after lunch.

In Melbourne, 15km doesn’t get you very far into the suburbs at all. In Adelaide it can easily get you out to many of the terrific climbs at the foot of the nearby hills. In Canberra it well and truly places you in the sticks.

It was while stuck at a red light at the Cotter Spillway — half following road rules, half waiting for Jack (Minister for Bonking) to catch up — that we began speculating about what the route was going to be like. We knew it would be long, we knew it was going to be “pretty climby” but would there be the kind of scenery that would, when photographed, filmed and stored in our memories, successfully enrich the treasure trove of cycling-related hashtags we had grown to know?

The Scott bikes and the CyclingTips-Holden cars weren’t ours, so outside couldn’t have been free-er. Would we come across brothers lush and light? We knew what we had missed this morning, we were busy ripping skids in the hotel carpark trying to win the approval of our BMX-ing neighbours. Was Paddy sending us down the road less travelled? Or just paying homage to himself in sick, twisted way?

The light went green and we crossed the Cotter River and turned onto Paddys River Road. It was 100m later when all our questions were answered.

Unbelievable. Like the most joyous, human-powered rollercoaster you could possibly ride. We weren’t even an hour out of Canberra but found ourselves barrelling down a road that was the perfect blend of our two favourite sections of tarmac in the country: Adelaide’s Gorge Rd, and north east Victoria’s Great Alpine Rd.

Some rode side-by-side, occasionally holding hands, frequently wiping tears from their eyes at the beauty. Some chose to solo off the front, unable to keep the excitement in their legs any longer. We were on a gem of a road, and at the perfect time of year, with big-ass hedges and lines upon lines of poplar trees lining the road. Through rolling terrain in a tight valley, we sprouted up through the golden leaves and emerged into what was soon dubbed “Back Country ACT”.

Our first turn off Paddys River Rd would come at the Tidbinbilla Reserve. Not wanting to reenact the events of the early morning, nor pay entry to the park, Harry (Minister for Summernats) thought (meaning Mal probably tapped him on the shoulder) it best to go get some fuel, leaving us to fend for ourselves for the next half hour. With free entry for bikes, we welcomed the opportunity to enter the park at our leisure.

The 16km loop navigates its way around a large wetlands ecosystem, bustling with birds, kangaroos, tourists and little guys like the Northern Corroboree Frog, part of the extensive breeding program for critically endangered species facilitated at the reserve.

Slightly intimidated by the larger kangaroos frontin’, Alex (Minister for Power) and I went to lift the 15km/h pace, soon playing the roles of Sylvain Chavanel and Thomas Voeckler all while discussing the loop’s potential as a racing circuit. We would later find that it was the home of the 2013 Oceania Road titles, where a handful of laps were completed to finish the road race.

While the scenery and the accompanying wildlife were pleasant enough, and a brief look into the lives of aggressive French pro cyclists did hold its appeal, getting spat back out into the open air, mobile reception and the carpark of the reserve were welcomed with open arms. The welcome was not returned.

Harry, Mal, Josh and the CyclingTips-Holden team car were nowhere to be seen. Immediately conspiracy theories started to emerge, some of which involved Michael Rasmussen lurking in the hills; others which involved the rescue of a beleaguered Jack. It would turn out to be none of those — they were just taking their sweet-ass time.

It was 4pm and Alex and I were continuing the tradition of French breakaways while trying to conduct a photoshoot atop Gibraltar Falls. One in which Alex was attempting a track stand on a rock not much bigger than the wheelbase of his bike. Four failed attempts, five near-death experiences and he opted for a safer, more traditional squat.

The Holden team car had finally caught up to the others just down the road and was providing fairy bread hand-ups — made famous by Soup Boys Cycling directeur sportif Harry at this year’s Tour of Mansfield Mount Buller stage — and much-needed water. The blue skies and painterly clouds had been replaced by darker skies and the forecast rain now seemed all too imminent.

Have you ever done something so ridiculously dangerous while riding, so utterly stupid that when you complete it you are forced to count your blessings and think whether you should tell your better half? The concept was quite simple: Ride up Honeysuckle, a climb noted as averaging 4%, get to the top, drop back down, do another climb close by then make waves back to Canberra. Inspired by Keagan Girdlestone who holds the KOM, we imagined we would be getting to the top in pretty good shape. In short, the profile lied.

Dodging kangaroos that were bounding across the road, Ron (Minister for Mooseheads) peered down at his Garmin which displayed a gradient well into double figures. We couldn’t help but feel betrayed. Hitting the top (1,200m) to the sounds and smells of a nearby campground’s many BBQs, we contemplated what to do next. The sun had set, and between myself (blind anyway), Dean (Minister for Flat-Lays) and Ron there was a single front light to guide our path back down the mountain. We each took a deep breath and set sail for the bottom.

Like a dodgy nightclub come dawn, the Soup Boys’ Canberran digs were a sight to behold come 8:30pm. Ron, Dean and I made it to the bottom of Honeysuckle alive, to be met by Alex who had been practising his sprints on a pitch-black country road for half an hour, the others having left before that. Somehow (we would later find it was through Matt (Minister for Embezzlement) and Jack’s terrible sense of direction) the chase group would get back to the accommodation first – hungry, tired, confused and locked out.

Ben eventually rolled in, hotel key in jersey pocket and ready to save the day. With 15 minutes to spare we phoned up an order for as many pizzas, much to the audible annoyance of the pizzeria owner. Minutes spent waiting for the pizzas’ arrival was made easier by witnessing the BMX party next door, a gathering reminiscent of our high school years, only with characters in their late 20s and 30s.

They let us know they were headed to the Mooseheads pub/nightclub later on and invited us. We said we would see them there. We lied.

Day 2: The "Easy" One

Kanye West’s Ultralight Beam echoed throughout the digs the next morning. Frost on the window, groggy heads, and pizza boxes and beer bottles scattered throughout told the story of the night before.

So as to allow a proper comparative analysis of Scott bicycle models, a few bike swaps were done between those who shared sizing. If yesterday’s ride was a slow roasting, today would be the day we were flambéed.

The sun was out yet again, in defiance of the rainy forecast we had prepared ourselves for. Parked up at the the Cupping Room, we milled around the takeaway window getting a morning café latte and croissant fix. With a fleet of bikes that led the general public to believe we were IAM Cycling reincarnate, whispers of “are those guys sponnoed?” could be heard as we nonchalantly sipped our caffeinated drinks as if mid-photoshoot (which we technically were).

Kindly, Paddy had once again taken care of the route, defined as “the easy one”. The easy one with six climbs in it. The Cupping Room would be our pre-breakfast, as anything heartier had to be earned.

As celebrity chef George Calombaris has found in 2017, sometimes life comes at you fast. The same could be said for climb one of “the easy day”, Black Mountain. Hoping to emulate Ben’s hometown hero Jesse Featonby, everyone attacked one another from the outset, trying to inflict pain or have a croissant rise to the surface.

There was no leader’s jersey, no points or bragging rights on offer — it just seemed that whenever Mal and Josh had their cameras out and pointed in our direction, everyone whipped up into a frenzy in the name of jostling for prime camera position. Especially Dean who was feeling right at home on a bike fitted with a 32T big dog on the rear.

Dressed in combinations of full kit, half kit and no kit, we found ourselves admiring Walter Burley Griffin’s handiwork as we weaved our way around the suburbs of Canberra. One thing that was noted early on day one was the ease with which you were able to get around Canberra on two wheels. We had ended up on what we thought were freeways, only to discover they had perfectly suitable bike lanes where three abreast would still have allowed us enough space to throw elbows and chop each other’s wheels.

The tradition would continue into day two, as we mixed roadside, separated bike lane, and path around Lake Burley Griffin. As proud horticulturalists, it was only right that we stopped off at the National Arboretum to sample the local strains, and to take in the views.

Unfortunately our casual mode of dress was drawing eyes from the crowds of tourists, so evasive action was required to escape the hordes with their loving eyes. Ben and Ron opted for a direct, off-road route, while the others shot down to safety via the backside of Dairy Farmers Hill. The next destination would be actual breakfast at the Farmer’s Daughter. (What a segue.)

Imagine the scene for a minute. A vinyl-wrapped CyclingTips-Holden team car pulls up skrrrrt right outside the cafe. Out jump two handsome, rather trendy photographeurs/videographeurs — Josh and Mal — and one of Australia’s most promising amateur bodybuilders/young greco Dolph Lundgren-lookalikes — Harry. They walk into the café, and the three of them take a seat at the longest table in the establishment, one that sits 10 people. Minutes later, to the sounds of sing-a-longs and cursing, seven weirdly dressed men — who you could almost call boys — show up.

They’re all riding matching bikes, wearing matching shoes and helmets, but dressed wildly differently. One of them even has a bum bag around his chest. They walk in and kick their feet up around the 10-person table. They talk about riding their bikes through the Royal Canberra Golf Course in the hope of finding shortcuts, the climbs they have ahead, and how badly they wish they had more than a single pocket in their chest bum bag.

The one with a certain amount of internet fame searches the geotag of the café, rises from his seat and walks a lap of the establishment, peering down on other customers’ plates. The others’ food arrives before he has completed his lap, but his aura extends beyond the realms of internet fame, his food arrives, his order noted telepathically.

For a moment there is complete silence, bar the sounds of the whirring La Marzocco espresso machine. When forks are placed back down onto empty plates, seats are emptied almost immediately. Bidons are refilled, and bikes remounted. Loitering takes place in the “fucking middle of the road” in one of Canberra’s most affluent suburbs.

The group of boy-men disappear into the afternoon sun, the other café goers watching them roll down the street and off into the distance. Who were those enigmatic children? Will they ever know?

After ascending Red Hill we made sure to hold a dance party at the top as Ron conducted performance-based adjustments on his bike for the umpteenth time that day. Atop Parliament Hill we made a note of trying to slide into Clive Palmer’s DMs. We came up short.

Once again the day was getting away from us, so for once in our lives we began to get a wriggle on. Dropping down into the Australian Defence Force Academy, we rose up to the summit of Mt Pleasant, a never-ending right hand bend that, when crested, gives you sensational views of the city (note its enjoyment factor of +10, versus Melbourne’s Mt Pleasant which has an enjoyment factor of -5).

The fight for the KOM, or the competition for best video appearance, remained heated in the unexpected but welcome April sun. There were only two climbs remaining, and to the best of our knowledge the hardest ones were already behind us. Wherever Paddy was right at that moment, he was laughing.

The view from Mt Ainslie (Image: Ryan Wick)

Mount Ainslie. Could you say it hides behind the Australian War Memorial when it is a mountain? Unsure. But the road to the summit is something that certainly sprung a surprise. The entire way up, The Streets song It Was Supposed To Be So Easy was sung a cappella through double-digit-gradient-enforced laboured breathing.

In the hunt for KOM points Ben went hard with Alex and I, only to rest back and focus on strengthening his third place in that classification and enlarging the gap to Dean in fourth.

At the top, I was focused on the ice cream truck, while Alex was focused on challenging some Buddhist Monks at downball. Having obviously caught wind of Alex’s triumph over Lachy Morton at the Tour Down Under, they were having none of it.

Dean had torn our legs off along the bike path that snaked its way around the back of Mount Majura, and we had rocketed down the Federal Highway and had waved goodbye to Matt who, as Minister for Embezzlement, used up his spare company money to make the smart decision of flying directly home to South Australia.

Sitting outside Parliament House under the watchful eyes of some Australian Federal Police guards who had caught wind of our exploits across the weekend, we had the opportunity to reflect on a typically rollercoaster weekend away.

A few weeks earlier, when deciding on a plan for the weekend, a vote within the Soup Boys group chat had been cast. Initially it was neck-and-neck between Tasmania and the Grampians. Then, like he so often does when a beer deep, Dean popped up out of nowhere to suggest Canberra. Such a left-field, but revolutionary suggestion from the patron saint of the sartorial cyclist.

And what a suggestion it turned out to be. Left shocked by the ease in which bikes could get around town, we remained in jealous awe of no waiting times at cafés on weekends, and utterly infatuated with the countryside surrounds and the riding on offer.

Did we get an opportunity to meet Clive Palmer? No. Had we unlocked the secret to winning the federal election? Eh, probably not. We weren’t even sure if the book on cycling road trips had been given a shake-up. At the very least we’d forced the publishers to reconsider a few chapters here and there, or publish a revised edition.

Canberra gets a lot of stick from those from other Australian cities. It’s called dull, boring, too quiet, a country town. Apparently living there sucks, but visiting it, giving it your undivided attention for a long weekend, had us thinking the contrary. Goddammit, we will be returning.

  • CapeHorn

    Always nice to see a shot of your local roads :D
    The worst thing about living in Canberra is you spend a lot of time looking out the windows at work wishing you were out on your bike :D

    • Supong Longchar

      Ha ha ha.

  • d;

    I find this strangely appealing, being persuaded to give Canberra a look. A good write-up indeed.

    • Take your mountain bike. Much better(er)

  • Simon Wile

    Canberras always been great for cycling, a well kept secret. Perhaps you could post the route details for anyone interested in re-living this adventure?

  • roklando

    I’ve lived in Canberra for almost 5 years now. Love it! Great cycling community, sweet rides, and yes, no lineups for great coffee. What more can you ask for? Great piece CT!

  • Peter

    Yep this is where i ride. And the further out you go from the city centre, the better the scenery and the riding gets. It is indeed a hidden gem for cycling.

    • Sunny Ape

      Yep, the further from Canberra you go, the better everything becomes ;P

  • I hope the Morton brothers get some sort of royalties for inspiring the shirt with lycra bib look :)

    • David9482

      Is the tie-dye and cycling short look from them too?

  • Valiant Abello

    I need to move to Australia

  • Andy B

    Even better on a mountain bike

    • Yeah… I was going to say the same. Road biking is pretty good in Canberra (compared with a capital city), but it is much better for mountain biking. It’s hard to believe there are people who don’t even own mountain bikes there…

      • Can’t wait to go there next week and MTB at Stromlo!

        • Andy B

          Check out majura pines if you get the chance

  • gundhi

    Dam cold though…

  • Supong Longchar

    Miss IAM cycling Kit. Can anyone send a link where to get it ?

  • Chris Thompson

    Great piece, but there’s no way that the line “apparently living there sucks” is true. We’ve been here a few years and there’s no way we’d move back to Sydney.

    • Its an Australian tradition to bag Canberra. I lived there for years, it no more “sucks” than “Melbourne sucks” or “Sydney sucks” or “Boggabri sucks” or “Australia sucks”

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