What got you on a bike?
Park life ... cyclists at the Centennial Park protest, after possible changes to infrastructure were announced. Photo: Nick Moir
Whew … is it safe to come out yet? It's been a torrid few weeks of media coverage for cyclists.
In Sydney, there was a media firestorm about an unregistered maroon Mitsubishi whose passenger reportedly assaulted a cyclist.
Then came the proposed changes to Centennial Park, a favourite place for bike riders, including reduced speed limits, pedestrian crossings and speed humps. A protest against such measures drew a thousand cyclists.
And speaking of protests, some 500 cyclists rode around Sydney's cycle ways in support of Lord Mayor Clover Moore, as Premier Barry O'Farrell and sections of the media continue their divisive campaign against her.
The thing that I struggle to understand is the seething anger that so many people have about cyclists and cycling.
Online comments about all of the above stories have brought out the usual frenzied ranting. The act of riding a vehicle weighing less than 20 kilograms is apparently seen by many as one of the most outrageous, offensive things a person can do.
It's an anger that knows no bounds … or boundaries. Many of the people complaining bitterly online about Sydney's cycle ways were listing their addresses as Newcastle, Lismore or even Gympie. And for many people, the first assumption is that, no matter what the story, cyclists are the problem.
I can't help thinking how much happier – and more understanding – so many people would be if they just got on a bike now and then.
A case in point would be a colleague who would regularly tell me that "bikes just have no place on the road".
Then he moved to a nearby suburb with lousy transport options and bought a pushie for commuting. "I reckon bikes should be legally allowed to jump red lights," he told me a week later.
But sadly, cycling doesn't come naturally to most adults these days. I blush to say that I spent much of my life with a keen disregard for it.
“Isn't the bicycle the most efficient form of transport there is?” I'd ask rhetorically. “If so, exercising on a bicycle is like trying to bulk up on salads.” (This was before I discovered such things as the Audax Alpine Classic.)
Injury lured me into cycling. At first my lower back rebelled against running; I bought a cheapish hybrid bike and started doing laps of nearby suburbs as a way to keep active.
Swimming seemed to help, so that when I was able to run again, I had a brilliant idea: triathlons. Why be average at one activity when you can be average at three? Make that four: the transitions were disastrous for a lifelong faffer like me.
Then came the burning pain in my knee joint. MRI scans showed that years of dunking a basketball had left my medial meniscus in tatters.
I spent several miserable months contemplating surgery. It seemed like a slippery path towards incapacity. Not that I was doing much with my flogged knee; swimming bored me, and without the regular endorphin hit my body craves, my mood was in the gutter.
“It'd probably be best if you didn't run,” said the surgeon, post-op. “Ever.” Two weeks later I was looking at new bikes.
Since then, I've discovered the joy of fanging into the hinterlands, then finding myself 80km from home, with nothing but my legs to get me back. Cycle touring across New Zealand and Tasmania. Tackling fabled Tour de France climbs in the Alps.
And, most outrageously, trundling city streets – and cycle ways! – as a great way of avoiding the horrors of rush-hour driving.
And curiously, when I drive my car or ride my motor scooter (yes, I pay two regos), I never have any problems with cyclists. Life's too short – and too fragile.
Or maybe it's because I'm too busy trying to see what kind of bike they're riding.
What got you on a bike? And what's the best way to get others into cycling?