Riding 85 km within 2 km of home: Every street in my suburb without a map

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I unclipped and pulled off to the side of the road. Behind me, my friend and colleague Andy van Bergen followed suit. We both surveyed our surroundings for landmarks that would jog our memory; something that would tell us whether we’d already ridden this suburban backstreet.

We’d spent nearly four hours in the saddle and covered roughly 80 km, and by this point every street was starting to look the same. We figured we might have been here before but there was no way to be sure — the mental fatigue was as real as the physical.

After a moment’s discussion we decided there was no real choice — it was better to ride the street twice than miss it and put the whole ride in jeopardy. We were so close to achieving our goal; it didn’t make sense to take any risks at this late stage.

We clipped back in and rolled down the street ahead of us, just like we’d done with the dozens, or perhaps hundreds before it. This was shaping up as one of the most memorable rides we’d done in a long time.

The suburb of Ivanhoe in Melbourne’s north east, as defined by Google Maps.

Genesis

As with most memorable rides, this one was some time in the planning. For months I’d been talking to Andy about my plan to do a challenge ride involving Melbourne’s Hoddle Grid (a story for another day), but when coronavirus hit and the CyclingTips Melbourne team started working from home, I stopped riding through the centre of town, and stopped thinking about the ride I had planned.

But unbeknownst to me, that idea had sparked something in Andy.

One April morning, on a commute-replacement ride, Andy snaked his way around northern Ivanhoe and tried to visit every street in his block. I was intrigued and inspired.

I decided I’d try the same thing in my neck of the woods — in southern Ivanhoe — and that if I enjoyed it, I’d work towards doing the entire suburb in one ride — a ride I figured would be around 85 km long and take most of four hours.

I told Andy of my plan. He liked it, but suggested I increase the difficulty level: by doing the ride without looking at a map.

I was initially hesitant. Riding every street in Ivanhoe seemed long and hard enough as it was, without having to remember where each street was and whether I’d already visited it.

But, I figured I should at least give it a try. And so, the following week, I went out and rode a pocket of southern Ivanhoe without looking at a map. I ran out of daylight before finishing the section but I was instantly hooked by the idea. Andy was right: doing it without looking at a map made it an exciting mental challenge as well as an interesting and satisfying ride.

The next morning I went back out and rode the whole section without looking at a map. I got every road that I aimed for.

The first section of Ivanhoe I rode in full.

As I pored over the map on Strava afterwards, the challenge of doing the whole of Ivanhoe suddenly seemed more doable. The way I figured it, I’d just need to break the suburb down into sections — divided by major roads — then ride and familiarise myself with each of those sections individually. Then, when I was comfortable with all six sections, I’d do it all in one ride.

The build-up

Over the next few weeks I went out section by section to acquaint myself with all the nooks and crannies of Ivanhoe. It didn’t just help me prepare for the ride — it also gave me a chance to get a better look at a suburb I’ve lived in for several years, but never really explored.

On most rides, I managed to tick off every street in the section without looking at a map. I missed a few here and there, but each one I missed simply became a street I knew I had to look out for in the main event.

Another section of Ivanhoe.

By the time I’d visited all six sections in recon rides, I was feeling confident. I had a handle on the layout of each section (all are slightly different), any problem streets to watch out for (dead-end courts off main roads can be tricky), and an idea of how to tackle it all in one go.

I built up a map of the suburb, showing the six sections, and highlighted any streets that I was worried about missing. I worked out what I thought the optimal order of riding the sections was and where to start riding each section from.

With the preparation done I told Andy of my plan and asked if he’d join me. The ride had been at least half his idea, after all, and doing it with him would be a blast. We found a day that worked and made sure we were clear on the goal: ride every street (no laneways, driveways or parks) within the bounds of Ivanhoe (as defined by Google Maps) in one ride, without consulting a map once. Easy, right?

The ride

In the days before the ride I found myself feeling more nervous than I’d expected. I wasn’t worried about the physical side of things, I just really didn’t want to spend four hours riding local backstreets only to miss one stupid road. It must have been on Andy’s mind too as he dreamed about the ride the night before we set out.

On a sunny autumn afternoon we met on the western edge of Ivanhoe and set off right away. We were starting with Andy’s home section so I was very confident that with his local knowledge, plus what I’d learned from my recon, that we’d tick it off without issue.

That first section flew by, and before too long we were heading east into section 2, both feeling around 95% sure that we’d visited every street. That would be a common theme at the end of every section: we could never say with absolute certainty that we’d ticked it all off, but we couldn’t think of any streets that we’d missed.

Not once throughout the afternoon did the ride feel like a drag. We’d lucked out with perfect weather and I think both of us relished the chance to catch up in person (1.5 metres apart, naturally) after nearly two months spent working from home. Andy’s love of a good cycling challenge made him the perfect companion for such a ride too — the frequent turning around, and stopping and slowing, and working out where to go would have frustrated many riders. But both Andy and I were in our element, relishing the challenge, as silly as that challenge was.

Andy turning around in one of many courts.

As you’ve read, there were times during the ride where we questioned ourselves, wondering whether we’d already ridden a certain street or not. On each occasion, we’d discuss for a moment before inevitably deciding that if there was any doubt whatsoever, it was worth re-riding the section just to be safe.

By the time we reached the final of the ride’s six sections, fatigue had well and truly set in. Not just the mental fatigue of paying attention to each street and trying to remember where we’d been, but the physical fatigue as well. While not as hilly as some other suburbs of Melbourne, Ivanhoe certainly isn’t flat, and after well over three hours in the saddle, our legs were starting to feel it. Fading daylight added a sense of urgency too, and the pace only seemed to increase as we made our way through that final section.

As the sun started to set, we ticked off what seemed like the final street, and pulled over to the side of the road. As far as we could tell, we’d ridden every single street in Ivanhoe, but we couldn’t be sure.

A look at my GPS showed we’d covered 86 km in 3 hours and 50 minutes and climbed around 940 metres along the way. And all of that within 2 km of our homes.

As Andy headed off to round out a century, I rode straight home to check my ride data.

I’ve never been so nervous looking at a ride map on Strava. I zoomed in, section by section, dreading the moment I would find some tiny, insignificant street we’d ridden past while deep in conversation.

But after several checks, I couldn’t see anything we’d missed. Success!

A 3D image of Andy’s ride profile, courtesy of VeloViewer.

Debriefing

Reflecting on this challenge, I realise Andy and I had a couple things working in our favour. First of all: homeground advantage. With two of us living in the same suburb it certainly gave us a leg up. Doing a similar ride in an unfamiliar area would likely have required far more recon.

Secondly, there were two of us. Having two sets of eyes to look out for side streets and two memories to recall where we’d been (and not been) certainly helped. Doing this solo would have been quite a bit more challenging (not to mention less fun, without the great company).

It was incredibly satisfying to achieve a goal that I’d been building up to for some time. I’d initially been resistant to the idea of doing this challenge without a map, but I can now see the genius of Andy’s idea. It means the ride isn’t just about keeping on going — it’s a test of preparation, of memory and of navigation skills. And at a time when our regular commutes aren’t happening, and when life just feels a little tougher than normal, an interesting on-bike challenge has proven most welcome.

The fatigue was real.

One of the coolest things about this challenge is that it’s infinitely repeatable. Ticked off your suburb? Great, now go and do the next suburb along. Or go back and do the same suburb but do it more efficiently.

It’s been cool seeing other people doing similar rides in the days since Andy and I did ours, or hearing that we’ve inspired others to do likewise. It also turns out the concept of “Burbing” has been around for a few years now. To the best of my knowledge, though, no one’s done one of these rides without a map before.

Turnpike and the seventh section

A few hours after completing the ride, I was flicking through Instagram, reading people’s comments on the photos I’d posted from the ride. When I reached one particular comment, my heart sank. “He missed Turnpike Rd,” wrote kurt_kb.

What?!

Fearing the worst, I hastily typed “Turnpike Road” into Google Maps. Sure enough, there it was — a tiny strip of bitumen, less than 30 metres long, tucked away conspicuously on the northern edge of Sparks Reserve.

Apparently that tiny white line inside the blue circle is a road.

In all my recon rides, and on the day itself, I never once thought this could be a recognised street. I simply dismissed it as a carpark. After all, I’ve used it for that very purpose on multiple occasions in the past.

But as it turns out, that carpark is officially a road. Days later, I still can’t believe it.

Further frustrations would arrive via Strava the next day. “One point to note,” wrote Dean Forde in a comment on my ride, “Ivanhoe’s suburb boundary actually now extends north up to Bell Street including the area bounded by Bell, Waterdale, Banksia, Upper Heidelberg Road – this area was previously Heidelberg Heights.”

A look at the Victorian Government’s Register of Geographic Names website confirms Dean’s point. It turns out Ivanhoe’s borders on Google Maps are out of date, meaning we’d missed a chunk of the suburb. Fantastic.

That section inside the blue circle, north of Banksia Street, is apparently part of Ivanhoe too. Google Maps suggests the suburb ends at Banksia St.

Do these discoveries invalidate our ride? Honestly, I’m not sure. I suppose it depends on your perspective. Technically we didn’t ride every street in Ivanhoe, but we did ride every street we were aware of in the area we were targeting. I still think that’s something to be proud of.

That said, I’d be lying if I said I don’t feel compelled to go out and do the ride again, ticking off both Turnpike Road and the seventh section of Ivanhoe — a section I never knew existed.

Tips for conquering your own suburb

Recon rides are your friend. Get familiar with the layout and intricacies of the suburb so you can visualise the area as you ride.

Break it into sections. If you live in a large suburb, tackle the recon and the ride itself section by section. It will help make the task feel far more manageable.

Ride the border of a section before starting it. Not only will this help you visualise the layout of the section, it will mean you don’t have to do those border roads later, when you’re trying to remember where you have and haven’t been.

Don’t worry about efficiency. The ride isn’t going to be efficient. It’s just not. You’ll re-ride sections, you’ll double-back, you’ll waste time. That’s ok. Focus on ticking everything off. It efficiency is important to you, go back and do the ride a second time, trying to complete it in less distance than the first.

Approach the ride in a systematic way. Don’t go snaking down a series of streets without a plan. Do it street by street, without leaving uncompleted streets behind you.

Don’t fall into the “I’ll do that later” trap. You don’t want to have a bunch of streets left to do at the end. Do them now.

Pay attention to street signs. Say the name of the street out loud as you complete it. This will help lodge it in your memory. Next time you ride past it and wonder whether you’ve done it, you’ll find it a lot easier to remember.

Don’t worry about how fast you’re riding. This is not a ride where you want to be worried about your average speed. Andy and I averaged around 22 km/h on our ride, and I did about the same on my recon rides. You’re going to be slowing, stopping and turning around a lot.

Be ready for lots of slowing, stopping and turning! If you’re looking for an uninterrupted ride at high speed, this mightn’t be the challenge for you. This is a different sort of ride to what you’ll normally do. Try to embrace it.

Have fun!

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