From his 6am rides to his customised bike collection, London cyclist Rudy Melo represents a new wave of urban riders who fuse their passion for racing with a love of bike style and post-ride social hangouts
When Brazilian-born London cyclist Rudy Melo helped to set up the 5th Floor – an urban collective of cycling friends who meet up to race bikes, master tricks, eat postride pizza and have fun – he had no idea that he was shaping an influential new zeitgeist within the urban cycling arena. ‘The 5th Floor started out as a blog back in 2009 when we were just a group of friends in the London riding scene,’ explains Melo, 31, who has lived in London for 14 years. ‘We are called the 5th Floor because we used to meet up on the fifth floor of an East London car park where we would ride fixed gear bikes, race around, do skids and drink beer afterwards. It was a really social cycling hangout. Someone might say, “Let’s ride to north London and grab a pizza.” Other times we would ride to Richmond Park, have a beer and ride home. It was very fun and very social – just a collection of like-minded cyclists.’
Fast forward to 2017 and the 5th Floor has come to symbolise a fresh and exciting brand of urban cycling culture: a close-knit group of committed riders who compete in track meetings, frantic city crits and muddy weekend cyclocross events, all the while maintaining a commitment to style, design, authenticity and fun. The collective has now attracted the support of global brands, acquired its own iconic green and black cycling apparel, gathered an esoteric social media following, and even founded a stylish sister branch in New York. ‘Nobody in the UK was blogging about this scene so we wanted to change all that,’ says Melo.
Don’t give up the day job
Like most city riders, Melo combines his love of racing with his work and family schedule, fitting in races, training rides and meet-ups whenever he can.
‘I ride twice a week before work which means waking up at 6am, leaving the house at 6.30am then going to Regent’s Park for a ride with friends for an hour. It is normally quite pacy. Sometimes we ride steady and work together, while at other times we attack each other. I’ve done 50km and had two cups of coffee by the time I get to my desk so I am full of energy at 9am. During the track season I’m racing every Saturday. Of course, work takes up a fair amount of my time, but I make up for it by riding on the road at weekends. We all text each other and then just freestyle our riding plans.’
Melo works as a designer (‘At first when I started shaving my legs for races, people at work thought it was strange, but now they just get it’) and it was his professional passion for aesthetics and style which first got him hooked on cycling.
‘Eight or nine years ago a friend of mine had a fixed gear bike
to commute to work and I loved how it looked – how minimal the bike was. He customised it himself by choosing all the parts. At the time I was looking to commute by bike to work so I got one myself. I started riding all the time and going to lots of fixed gear meet-ups in town that I saw listed on the London Fixed Gear Single Speed forum. We would just get involved in the scene at night after work and ride to pubs and restaurants.’
This obsession soon grew into a hunger for competitive racing and new adventures. ‘I started going to Herne Hill velodrome, which got me into riding track. The first time I went, I was riding with my bibshorts under a pair of denim shorts as I wasn’t sure how I would look in cycling kit and it was all so new. The first winter after I started riding in the velodrome, Herne Hill was closed so I got a road bike and started doing longer rides. Then the following summer I got involved in cyclocross, mainly because it just looked fun. So it all started with the fixed gear scene but I soon realised there was so much more to cycling.’
Having opened his eyes to the full spectrum of cycling possibilities, Melo’s passion for cycling has grown to now include fixed gear, track, road and cyclocross rides.
‘I live in south London so it’s just a 20-25 minute ride to the outskirts of Kent for a great road ride in the countryside. If I have a couple of hours I will go to Richmond or Esher, maybe stopping off at a cycling cafe. I really love the cyclocross scene in London. We get great crowds supporting and cheering and the community is great. But the Red Hook Crit is one of the best. You have guys like me who work 9-to-5 riding alongside ex-pros and bike messengers, so it’s a great mix.
‘However, my favourite race was in the South East Road Race League two years ago. My teammates and I were attacking or chasing every attack to have a bit of fun and test our legs, and I ended up coming third. But it doesn’t matter if I finish third or seventh. We are there to have fun, push hard, and give it everything we’ve got.’
Melo and his teammates at the 5th Floor ride hard, pushing themselves to the limit in training, but they are equally as committed to the more social side of cycling, often doing beer
or pizza rides. ‘After races we always go for a beer afterwards. We are amateur cyclists so we love what we do, it’s a true obsession, but we don’t take ourselves too seriously.’
Passionate about the design of classic cars and motorbikes (‘I ride a customised Honda 125 around the city and I used to have an old Mini that I drove to cyclocross races with my bike on top’), Melo is also a fan of the style and heritage of cycling. ‘Because I work as a designer I love the aesthetics and style of cycling culture. I was amazed when I started meeting people in the London cycling scene as there were so many people from creative industries – designers, photographers, art directors. I like to design my bikes, changing the colour, the look and the style of the bike.’
All four of Melo’s own bikes are customised. ‘Looking back, I’m a bit embarrassed about my first bike – it had white rims and stuff like that. But it’s nice to design my own bike so it represents a little bit of me. I have a track bike with a race-ready ratio and tubular tyres for the track that I keep at Herne Hill velodrome. I have a road bike for training and racing, a cyclocross bike and a single-speed commuter with flat bars to ride around the city. Thankfully my wife is very understanding because our flat isn’t very big!’
As with his customised bikes, his kit too has to be just right, and when it comes to eyewear he can’t live without his Oakley Jawbreaker with Prizm™ Road lenses. ‘I love how everything on the road, the shadow, the colours, become much better defined.’
When he’s out riding, Melo links his love of cycling with his passion for photography, often capturing pixelperfect scenes for Instagram. Precision is everything. ‘I have been to so many new places because of my bike – Mallorca, America, Spain, Italy – and if I am taking a picture of the road to put on social media, I am always aware of the style of the picture. I don’t just snap away. It has to be right. If it’s not good enough, I won’t upload it.’
At his home, Melo’s bookshelf gives away his not-so-secret loves. ‘You can tell I’m a cyclist-slash-designer because my shelf is full of design books, graffiti books and cycling books,’ he says. ‘I have a lot of fixed gear books and cycling travel books. I like great photography and beautifully designed books with good binding. I have one on European climbs, which I read when I broke my collarbone, and that inspired me to go to the Dolomites and ride the Stelvio. I’d love to ride in the French Alps and Tuscany, perhaps doing some gravel riding with a Strade Bianche vibe to it.’
Combining a frenzied medley of track races, cyclocross events and road rides with his work commitments, family life and other passions for design, photography and travel is not easy. But whenever Melo gets out on his bike, every detail falls into place.
‘When I’m out riding I think, “This is my time.” I enjoy every moment. A lot has changed since we set up the 5th Floor, but we are still the same bunch of friends who motivate each other to stay fit, ride hard and have fun.’
Melo has a passion for all forms of cycling, from the track to the open road, and cyclocross to urban commuting
As a designer, Melo is passionate about the form and function of bikes and the whole culture around cycling
Cycling is integral to every part of Melo’s life, whether it’s work, sport, fitness or socialising