Friday 2 August 2019

Melburn Roobaix - Aladdin Sane style

Where to start? If you know what the Melburn Roobaix is and remember those awesome knitted bodysuits that Kensai Yamamoto designed for David Bowie, then this blog post will make perfect sense to you. Enjoy the pictures!

For everyone else I'll try to explain ;)

I have always, always, wanted to make a David Bowie costume of some description. He was the ultimate genius of costume and character. Seeing the David Bowie Is exhibition at ACMI in 2015 just made me more determined. 

Would it be an Ashes to Ashes clown suit? a Ziggy Stardust quilted Liberty jumpsuit? a powder blue suit? that black and white vinyl jumpsuit? The opportunities seemed endless as did the brilliance of Bowie himself.

And then he died in January 2016.

I became more determined. I just needed an excuse. Enter Melburn Roobaix

A bicycle ride might not seem the logical place for silly dress ups but the Roobaix is no ordinary bike ride. It started out a bit like an Alley Cat race - the couriers who knew the backstreets of Melbourne like nobody's business, scooted around town collecting waypoint information along the route (which there wasn't one) and finished at the pub.

By 2006 it had grown into an "official event" and took it's inspiration from the famous one day race Paris-Roubaix. In the real Paris-Roubaix, serious, elite cyclists race hard across northern France and into Belgium and go terrifyingly fast across the rough, cobbled forest roads. As one of the spring classic races, the weather is often horrendous and the mud and dirt on the cobbles can lead to absolute carnage. The race finishes on the velodrome at Roubaix, sometimes for a solo rider, sometimes in a final, exciting sprint.

In Melbourne we ride in winter to try and simulate the Belgian spring and the course takes in as many of the historic bluestone cobbles back lanes as can be found. It's a hilarious day out. At the end (on a velodrome of course) we drink beer and eats our frites with mayonnaise just like the Belgies do.

My first Roobaix was way back in 2008, and I was seven months pregnant with P!

Getting a push up the notorious Col d'Ugly
Deciding which bike to ride is half the fun and there are some incredible feats of engineering that have no right to be called bicyles that come out for the day, alongside some high end machines, absolute classics and some old hardwaste junkers like my shopper bike seen above. It's every sort of person, on every sort of bike and lots of people dress up.

Last year was the tenth anniversary of my first and only Roobaix and I thought my pedalling partner from that year should join me. He did, and we had a blast. Even though he vetoed any costumes. :(

So this year we were all set to ride together again, and this year he said I could make costumes and we both agreed it had to be Bowie!

Then we realised the date clashed with the kids being on holiday with their granny and it would have to be Flipper who would ride with me and so he would HAVE TO WEAR THE COSTUME! (to say the kids found this funny is a huge understatement)

Which Bowie outfits would lend themselves well to a long winter's day in the saddle?  Those awesome knitted Yamamoto jumpsuits of course, with a few changes as concession to our age and shape and in order to keep warm!

I downloaded Adobe Illustrator and with a bit of help from a clever friend I worked out how to design my "knitwear" fabric. 

To avoid having seams anywhere we didn't want them when riding I tried to get the fabric printed such that the nude sections would be in the right places and the skinsuit panels could be cut as one.

I've used the Jalie 3135 skinsuit that I've sewn so many times as swimmers for the kids. I made some errors in adding too much torso length and so we both ended up with much baggier, wrinklier skinsuits than I'd imagined. But perhaps I'd imagined less wrinkles overall and it wasn't just the skinsuits that made me feel less fabulous in reality! :)

To try and reduce the torso length I left off the crotch gusset section, otherwise the pattern is unaltered.

Designing the fabric was quite a brain teaser, especially my own which wasn't symmetrical. I had to be sure that the left front would match the left back and meet across the front and back with the right side. Flippers was easier for being symmetrical but I wish I'd given him a higher cut leg! After all, David almost had his bits coming out the sides of his leotard!

Since these were cycling skinsuits I purchased a pair of chamois inserts from Aerotech in the states and sewed them in. If that isn't the worst sewing job ever! Imagine sewing a three dimensional curved padded insert into a  4 way intersection of crotch seam. It needs to have a concave curve from front to back and a convex curve from side to side. 

I sewed my one in and did an abysmal job. I sewed Flipper's in and did a bit better, then I ripped mine out and tackled (pun intended) it again and finally got it right. I'm afraid I couldn't be bothered redoing Flipper's. It would be comfortable even if it looked a bit puckered and wrinkly. Sorry old fella :)

Sadly my flesh colour was a lot pinker and baby flesh than either of us in reality and so the semi-nude effect wasn't realised. I was feeling a bit glum about the skinsuits not being as cool as I'd imagined but then we put them on for a funny photoshoot and cracked ourselves up.

So where and how did I get the fabric? I thought about the international fabric printing companies, but then found Next State Print here in Melbourne. Their prices were super reasonable, I would have no shipping delays and the quality of the lycra is excellent. We were nice and warm, and once we got over the feeling of looking a bit ridiculous, we were actually very comfortable!

I used some extra printed sections of my fabric to make these stuffed ankle and wrist bangles and then Flipper scored a feather boa from Jimmy's Buttons. It delighted me to see him riding around with it flowing along. There's a fun video on my Instagram account here

We had a fabulous day out on the bikes and believe it or not, our costumes were definitely on the tame and ordinary side. I don't know how the KISS glam rockers rode with their studded codpieces! There were too many great costumes to have favourites but the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles with their pepperoni pizza disc wheels and the pair of jockeys with their bikes complete with manes and tails were standouts for me. You simply must check the Instagram hashtag #melburnroobaix

Next year I think A will be able to keep up and we may have to make it a family event. I'm already thinking up outfit ideas!

There will always be bicycles and sewing and silly ideas. You can imagine I was in my element!

Pattern: Jalie 3135
Fabric: Active from Next State Print with custom printing
Notions: invisible zippers and chamois pads from Aerotech Designs
and the inspiration of course: Fyxo and Mr David Bowie / Kensai Yamamoto


  1. OH. MY. GAAAAAAAAH. I die. This is officially the best thing in the universe. I was feeling a bit grumpy this morning, but you made my freaking day.

    1. THat comment completely made my day too. Thanks!

  2. Everything about this is so much fun. Unadulterated joy!

    1. THank you Louise, that's just how the day out on the bikes felt too!

  3. You are so creative - right down to designing your own fabric. I'm in awe! Now I want to know where you plan to wear these excellent outfits again...because you know, they deserve at least a second outing!!

    1. ha ha thanks. I'm not sure that will happen, unless there's a costume party in our future. I might end up putting them on eBay, you never know who's looking for just such a thing. :)

  4. You are amazing and crazy. What fabulous outfits you made for the both of you and the photo shoot is the best, just glad I wasn't having a coffee!!

    1. Thanks Sharon, we were making ourselves laugh too. I lost it completely when Flipper did that sitting down with outstretched arms pose


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