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What got you on a bike?

Date

On Your Bike

After wearing out his knees with basketball and running, Michael O'Reilly became yet another MAMIL (Middle-Aged Man In Lycra).

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Park life ... cyclists at the Centennial Park protest, after possible changes to infrastructure were announced.

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.

Melbourne led off early when a woman was photographed cycling with a toddler strapped to her back. Then there was heated discussion about turning Princes Bridge in St Kilda into a car-free zone.

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?

60 comments

  • The best way to get others cycling? Continue the buildout of the separated cycleways throughout Sydney, limit the amount of car parking provided, increase the tax on petrol, reduce speed limits to 30km/h on all residential roads and throughout the CBD, enforce those new speed limits with speed cameras everywhere, and increase the green-light time for cyclists and reduce it for motorists.

    Easy!

    Commenter
    Simon
    Date and time
    April 12, 2012, 12:20PM
    • Two comments:
      1. 30km/h would be faster than the average speed in Sydney anyway. Do the math. Travel distance over time. Generally works out at 20km/h, if you're lucky. Obviously the further you travel the better your average. But, in Sydney, forget it.
      2. Those who only use a car as thier means of transport - It's known as ENVY. You pay too much for your car, your petrol, your rego, CTP. Should I go on. And generally get to where you wnat to go no faster than a cyclist who pays sweet F all. Suck it up losers.
      OK 3 comments.
      3. It may be warm in your car, but I can put on a winter jacket (for less than the cost of your average weekly petrol refill) Ha Ha.

      Commenter
      The Stalker
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      April 12, 2012, 1:26PM
    • @The Stalker: But hateful comments like yours don't help either. Hate doesn't end hate - it just fuels it. You get the other side all riled up, they become more hateful towards you, you throw more hate back, and it just escalates.

      Best thing to do is to ignore the critics (unless they have a point!) and get on with your life. Generally the hateful comments come from a very small minority - most people don't have an opinion either way.

      Commenter
      Bob
      Date and time
      April 12, 2012, 2:07PM
    • @Bob. RE: @Stalker,I think that was the point. You were the first bite.
      @Simon, Reducing speed zones hasn't worked yet, but we can only try. Best thing is to have fun at what ever you do, and don't hurt others doing it.
      There are plenty of rider leaner places popping up all the time. This is a good start.

      Commenter
      SImple Simon
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      April 12, 2012, 5:26PM
  • I started riding to combat a huge weight gain about 21 years ago & now ride several thousand kilometres a year for leisure, commuting & fitness.
    Cycling needs to become a 'normal' activity, not something practiced by middle aged men in lycra. It will require the re-education of our 15-20 year olds, as they have not been exposed to cycling as a means of transport, especially in our cities. Infrastructure like shared paths being built by the City of Sdney need to spring up all the way across Sydney, in fact all across Australia. Driver need to be made aware cyclists have just as much right to be on the road as cars do & lastly, our Governments need to realise roads are the areas between fencelines & building alignments which are there to be used by everyone, cyclist, pedestrians, pram pushers, joggers, elderly mobility devices,not just cars. The RMS (RTA) are simply focussed on motorised transport & cannot see beyond that use for roads & road related areas.

    Commenter
    john.holstein1
    Location
    Northmead
    Date and time
    April 12, 2012, 12:28PM
    • Completely agree! I'm 23 and just bought myself a bike, for fitness, but mainly for riding to my Mum's house (I don't drive)

      The only reason I felt comfortable doing this is because there's a bike path between our houses, and therefore no roads. I am generally terrified riding on roads! I avoid it as much as possible, and will more often than not either ride on the footpath, or wheel it along the footpath. My younger brother is a much more accomplished bike rider than me, and he doesn't feel that differently.

      We definitely need to change the attitudes of drivers, but it's so inbuilt for many people, it will be a very hard feat indeed!

      Commenter
      aro
      Date and time
      April 13, 2012, 11:15AM
    • Once you get started - it's hugely addictive. If you hadn't done it for something like 12 years, it takes some getting used to, but then you get started again and start picking up the old skills again, and it's all wonderful. It's not only exercise or transport, but it's fun too.

      And it'd be even better if, like someone said above, we built cycling paths everywhere - getting more people on bikes. At the moment, many people won't take up cycling because they are terrified of being in the traffic, and the endless stories of road-rage and abusive drivers never stop. The city would be a happier place with more people cycling and less traffic on the roads.

      Alan Todd: Wearing a helmet is not such a big thing. Put on some nice Bell or Giro that doesn't look like one of those fairly cheesy old helmets of the old days and all will be good. And if you should get collected or have an off, you'll be thankful for it.

      Commenter
      cd
      Date and time
      April 14, 2012, 4:55PM
  • Started nine months ago to give my knees a bit of a rest while training for last years Sydney Marathon.
    Now going to be one of thousands on Sunday who will cause 'traffic chaos' around Sydney swimming, cycling and running in the Sydney Triathlon.
    Really enjoy getting into an aerodynamic tuck and going as hard as I can in a race against the clock.

    As for how to get others to start cycling. Well if you enjoy being outdoors, want to improve your running or just want to get away from running while still getting a good cardio workout, perhaps it is time to put a leg over the saddle.

    Commenter
    Howie
    Location
    Sydney
    Date and time
    April 12, 2012, 12:33PM
    • what got me on a bike? a lung disease and the subsequent steroid-based treatment left me unable to run (not that i'd ever been inclined to) and weighing 130kgs. a spare bike sitting around at work was the impetus and about 3 years later and 40kgs lighter i finished the 2009 alpine classic, and like the author, have also toured tassie and nz (though no alps, i went for the himalayas instead).
      when the bug gets you, you're just got.

      Commenter
      clipperton
      Location
      heidelberg
      Date and time
      April 12, 2012, 12:36PM
      • I know what got me onto a bike. A realization about thirty five years ago that its about the quickest, most convenient, cheapest and most pleasant way to get around urban spaces. Then twenty odd years ago the police started stopping me, and telling me to get off my bike as what I was doing was both dangerous and illegal (you guessed, I rode without a helmet like the rest of the world). This happened over forty times in two years, so I gave up. I hardly use a bike any more, and won't consider riding if I'm forced to look like an absolute prat with a plastic hat. So until I am allowed to ride and retain my self respect at the same time, I will choose other means to get around, including driving. This seems to be what Australia's legislatures want, so who am I to disagree?

        Commenter
        Alan Todd
        Date and time
        April 12, 2012, 12:45PM

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