A Trip Down Under
You’re probably thinking ‘that’s a pretty nice picture of a beach but what does it have to do with bikes?’ Not an unreasonable question to be fair. However, Madeline, one of the owners of Criterium and ‘completer of the Vatterundan 300 in 2018‘ grew up in Perth, Western Australia. So every once in a while, the family (Richard, Madeline and 3 children, all of whom have dual nationality and therefore see Perth as a second home), venture the 9,000 or so miles for a family visit. This time, we took the opportunity to pop into a few bike shops in Perth whilst we were there hence the reason for the blog! It also gives an excuse for a few gratuitous shots of beautiful beaches and gorgeous wineries so read on……!
First, a little about Perth, the capital of Western Australia. It is often referred to as the world’s most isolated City. That’s unfair since excellent international airlinks to Perth mean a trip from Manchester (on the equally excellent Singapore Airlines) takes just 19 hours plus a short transfer in Singapore’s extraordinary Changi Airport. Of course, if you are feeling brave or just want to get it over with, Qantas also operate a non stop service from London – Perth! However, the break in the journey works for us so Manchester – Perth via Singapore it is.
Perth is quite a long way from anywhere else of any size. It’s closer to Jakarta than Sydney apparently and then there’s the scale of the place. Perth, a city of just over 2.1 million, is the State Capital of Western Australia which as a State has a population of around 2.6m. The State covers some 2.646 million square kilometres (the UK is 242,500 square km so WA is 11 times the size) yet excluding those 2.1 million in Perth. only 500,000 more live in the rest of WA. That means there is a lot of space and it does take some getting used to, especially when you want to drive anywhere!
Mind you, there is plenty to do in Perth itself. The City sits on the coast where the Swan River empties into the Ocean at Fremantle. Restaurants, bars, theatres and cultural activities are well catered for. The sizeable Kings Park and Botanic Gardens are bang in the centre of the City and provide an oasis of calm in a City that never manages to appear stressful itself. If you think you’ve had a decent cup of coffee at a downtown coffee shop in a big city then you really haven’t until you visit Perth – I’ve never had a bad coffee in 20 twenty years of visiting. And then there are the beaches. Australia is definitely an “outdoors, sporty, Bar-B-Q” kind of place and the beaches in Perth, running from Fremantle in the south to Scarborough to the North of the City and beyond are all fabulous with bars and restaurants overlooking them aplenty.
If you find the hustle and bustle of Perth a bit too much (and trust me, you won’t) then you can always use that as an excuse to go exploring. There’s so much to do in Western Australia that it would require a fair few blogs of material to even scratch the surface. However, our favourite is going what Perth residents call ‘down south’ by which they generally mean the area about 3 hours south of Perth between Cape Naturaliste and Cape Leeuwin. The main towns of Dunsborough to the north, Augusta in the south and Margaret River pretty much bang in the middle of this region contain large numbers of two things Australians have very high on their list of loves; wineries and beaches, especially ones where you can surf. There is nowhere quite like the Margaret River region that I have ever found anywhere else. The wineries are some of the best in Australia (which means they are some of the best in the world) with the likes of Moss Wood and Leeuwin Estate regularly making it in to the list of Australia’s best 5 winemakers.
The wineries that also have restaurants often serve meals that would grace the top restaurants in any major city in the world and with a friendly and welcoming approach to customer service that is turned up to 11, I tend to think that the Margaret River region is as close to heaven on earth as it is possible to find. The kids love the beaches of course. The beach in the title picture of this blog as well as the one below is Bunker Bay and was about 5 minutes walk from the villa we rented (actually, that’s an exaggeration – it was probably closer to 3 minutes) and there are plenty more beaches like Bunker Bay along the whole coast line. We rented our villa from the superb Private Properties as we have done so on a number of occasions and every time, the experience is outstanding.
The cycling scene
You’re probably thinking that with all these beach and winery nonsense, no-one in Perth is going to cycle much. It turns out however that they do. Although we didn’t manage to visit them this time, there are plenty of trails based around Margaret River such as the well known Pines (though logging activity does tend to mean some of the trails change from time to time) so we’re reliably informed The Hairy Marron is the bike shop / cafe to visit to get all the local gen.
Cycling is popular in the city as well with the City’s transport planners demonstrating a commendably enlightened approach to cycle ways and segregated routes. Even in the parts of the City where you have to share road space with cars and other vehicles, the traffic is pretty light and motorists tend to be polite and accommodating, though there were a couple of occasions when I went running on the roads down south I had to leap onto the verge a couple of times to deal with oncoming cars unwilling to move over a bit!
The City itself is pretty gentle in terms of terrain so if it’s more of a challenge that’s required, heading into the Perth Hills around Kalamunda, Mundaring and Darlington is the thing to do. The asphalt is generally good if you are a roadie and the hills, whilst occasionally challenging, never become depressingly so. There are some great Mountain Bike trails at Kalamunda and a fair few good bike shops around to provide support. It’s always worth planning ahead though, especially since the climate in WA is not what we’re used to in Scotland. You will get pretty hot, even on a day considered cooler and so fluid and nutrition management is an essential part of any cycle trip. There are plenty of websites to help you plan if you are heading out to the hills and as mentioned before, all the bike shops we visited are super helpful.
The Bike Shops
Like many major cities, there are stacks of bike shops ranging from the tiniest independent to branches of the larger chains. We had chance to visit just 3 shops whilst we were in the city though there were no real selection criteria to speak of so this is definitely not claiming to be a ‘best of’ list. Other people will no doubt have their favourites but we think the three we visited demonstrate a good cross-section of what is available.
Trek Store, Leederville
We couldn’t really visit Perth without popping into one of Trek’s own stores in the City so first up on our list was the Trek store, Leederville, a “close-in” Eastern suburb of Perth. We visited at a quiet time for the store and Matt, the service manager, was able to spend a bit of time chatting with us. “We’re pretty busy right now at the weekends especially” said Matt “given that we are coming to the end of the road season and the start of the more mountain biking time of year.” Always worth remembering that April is Autumn down under!
“We’re more of a road store as well” said Matt as we stood next to a rather lovely Trek Madone in RSL spec “although a Marlin 5 is pretty much our top seller, it’s right up there.”. This made perfect sense as Perth has the kind of terrain that will suit someone looking for an “all round” bike as competent as the Marlin 5.”We’re really busy in the workshop top, with loads of service work.” Interestingly, clothing was more limited in range although that made sense too as we find at Criterium now that folks are looking more specialist bike advice, fitting and purchasing rather than general clothing purchases which they tend to do either on line or at the bigger chains.
I noticed the guys at Leederville had a really good POS display of the new Bontrager WaveCel helmet and I asked Matt how they were going? “Really well” said Matt. “It’s a brilliant helmet and we sold out our first allocation in a week.”. “It can get a little warm in the Perth sun but overall, a great innovation.”
Trek Leederville is a great store that presents the Trek and Bontrager product really well but we could see Matt had all that service work to get back to so we said thanks and headed onto store number 2.
Wembley Cycles, Wembley
Just over the Freeway in the next suburb along is Wembley Cycles. This store has a great vibe about it. There’s nothing corporate here (although they do have a great website that does suggest it’s a bigger outfit than it is). The 3000 or so square foot space is well laid out with a small and great looking coffee shop in one corner which sadly had just cashed up when we arrived (otherwise the product would definitely have been sampled).
John, the owner, bought the business around 10 years ago and moved into the current location around 5 years ago. It’s an iconic store and John was pleased with the current state of business. “Really, really, busy right now, especially with the mountain biking season getting into full flow.” and sure enough, this store has a real MTB vibe with Santa Cruz and Specialized product dominating the sales space. “We tend to find that we are doing more and custom builds these days with customers selecting their framesets and then speccing what they want from there.” said John. That’s very similar to the Criterium story as well of course and is a route that the best IBD’s are following if they want to create a strong, sustainable niche.
Time was tight sadly so we couldn’t stay too long but I was mighty impressed with Wembley Cycles – a well laid out store with really friendly and engaged staff (we were greeted almost as soon as we entered the store, just as we do at Criterium) and I wished the guys well before heading off to the final store on our whistlestop itinerary.
Glen Parker Cycles, Nedlands
Nedlands is a suburb situated on the Stirling Highway, the main arterial road between Perth and Fremantle. It’s fair to say that Nedlands and the neighbouring suburbs of Claremont and Cottesloe are amongst the more affluent in the City. This is an established part of town and right on the Stirling Highway is Glen Parker cycles, the epitome of well established bike shops.
Glen Parker Cycles has been here for 40 years and although current owners Dennis Lightfoot and Hilton McMurdo have been here for slightly less than that, they opted to keep the name given that it had become so established. Dennis was not in the store at the exact moment I chose to visit so I sadly didn’t meet one of cycling’s well known names. Dennis was British National Champion in 1978, 1981 and 1986 and has over 200 race wins during a glittering career. The shop is full of memorabilia of this time but at no time does it come across as showing off. This is a shop run by cyclists for cyclists who love what they do and the memorabilia adds real integrity to what this shop is all about.
Hilton McMurdo was in the store when I visited and he was delighted to chat. Originally from Stockton-on-Tees (Dennis is from Manchester) he has made his home in far sunnier climes. He occasionally goes back to visit “but I can’t wait to get back to Perth really” he adds in his soft North East accent, blunted a little by time spent in Australia. Like Dennis, Hilton is still active in the local cycling scene but I sense a note of concern in his voice when he says “there’s loads of people cycling but maybe a bit less racing these days.” Mind you, I suspect the bar is pretty high for these guys. In addition to Dennis and Hilton, other staff in the store can boast membership of the Australian Track Team and high levels of competition in Mountain Biking events at State level.
This store, full to the rafters of high end road machines from Cervelo and Pinarello to name but 2, is the antithesis of the current trend in retail. There’s nothing fancy going on here with not a pane of smoked glass or an inch of exposed concrete to be seen anywhere. No merchandising consultant has ever stepped foot in Glen Parker Cycles and I am absolutely thrilled about that. This is an honest IBD in the classic mould where true enthusiasts with CVs to die for allow their passion and love for cycling to drive the culture of the store. Glen Parker Cycles is one of a diminishing breed of bike shops. But I hope it survives and prospers as a mecca for traditionalists who love cycling and want to spend time talking with those who have done it for real and at the highest level.
So after far too short a visit really, it’s time to head home to sunny Scotland which, in all honesty, is never as sunny as Perth. It’s been a very different experience (although that’s the joy of visiting other places really) and it’s great to see how they do it Down Under. Till the next time!