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February 16, 2009

bike on!

Posted by dogpossum on February 16, 2009 4:27 PM in the category bikes | Comments (0)

We've been doing quite a bit of bike riding round here since I've been injured. That means lots of hills for me, and lots of riding really slowly behind Boss Ham for The Squeeze. I am getting tougher and fitter, but I'm no hardcore commuter or something-to-prove Steel is real type. I ride for pleasure, to buy my groceries, to get places and to sticky beak as much as humanly possible. I ride a $500 bike of ordinary brand. The Squeeze rides something fancy he made himself from parts he bought on the internet. I am not afraid to leave mine locked up on the street. He worries about his the entire time we're in the cafe/shop/pub.
We've been surprised by how few people ride bikes in Sydney. Well, not so much surprised. It is hilly. The roads are narrow and do not have safe, well-signed bike paths. Motorists are aggressive and don't know how to drive safely near cyclists. There aren't many bike shops about and there are very, very few loops for locking up your bike. We didn't really expect the same number of cyclists as in Melbourne. Melbourne is, after all, jammed with them at the moment. But we have been surprised by our Sydney friends' thinking about bike riding.

1. Not many of them have been on a bike in the last ten years. This isn't too surprising - nor had I when I moved to Melbourne.

2. Very few of them have any desire to ride a bike. This, again, isn't too suprising; a desire to bike ride is built into you after a number of pleasurable rides. School-time memories aren't exactly conducive to cycling enthusiasm.

3. Most of them are very suprised to hear that a) The Squeeze commutes to work, and b) that I do my grocery shopping on the bike. It is this incidental cycling that I think is essential to making serious life style changes, for both our own fitness and for environmental goodwomanship. I'm always surprised that they're surprised by the thought of riding their bike (rather than driving their car) fifteen minutes to the next suburb to buy a whole heap of groceries.
They're always very surprised to hear that many veggie shops home deliver, and that people who aren't nannas use this home delivery service. I think that quite a few of them hear the delivery fee (which can range from $3 to $7, depending) and blanche a little. But then most of them find it difficult to believe that many places deliver things for free. Home delivery was once common place. It's certainly a feature in neighbourhoods with many older residents. But it's simply not something most car drivers would imagine using. For me, it's an essential (and entirely wonderful) part of life.
I like riding my bike for groceries. Because I work from home, I can go during the week, as many times as necessary (another thought that stumps people - shopping a few times a week? For pleasure?). Riding to the shops is not only convenient, it's also fun. It's nice to get out of the house and wizz off to do something useful. But I have also been a weekend grocery shopper. The Squeeze and I used to shop for our groceries together on the weekend when I was working out of the house, and we've been doing it a bit lately recently as my out-of-house commitments have increased.

We hop on our bikes, ride fifteen minutes to a cafe for a nice brunch, then off to the shops. We select and purchase our F&V, we leave empty-handed (the best part of home delivery!) Then off to the butcher or the deli or the supermarket. Because we do this sort of shopping-for-pleasure grocery shopping, we tend not to use the supermarkets. We use smaller businesses for our meat, fruit, vege and fish, and for specialist items (tofu, spices, etc). This means that we're not only buying better quality products, we're also avoiding huge chain shops. And we're also zooming in on businesses which are more likely to home deliver. Businesses which are right on the street with lots of spots just outside for us to use for bike parking.
Then we ride home.
We certainly don't need a car for all this. Riding a bike is more convenient than public transport. And it simply makes you feel good to get a little endorphine action on a nice weekend day.

I'm also surprised by non-cyclists' surprise at The Squeeze's commuting by bike. They immediately assume he's some hard core badass cycling machine (he is, but that's not the point). They don't tend to think of ways to ride a bike to work that don't involve masses of lyrca or really expensive bikes. In Melbourne, many people ride to work with their friends, at a very sensible medium pace. You see all sorts of bikes (and all sorts of cyclists) in peak hour - it's not all lycra. But that doesn't seem to happen here in Sydney. And I think it's a sad thing.

4. While they're interested in coming riding with us, they think of it as 'going for a ride' rather than 'let's ride to lunch on Saturday'. I love hopping on my bike to ride to the pub or to see a band or to explore an interesting area. The riding is fun in itself, but it's not the sum of my enjoyment. I like it that cycling lets you talk to your companions and stop easily to have a good stare at something interesting. But I think that for many non-bike riders, the ride itself is so unusual and strange it becomes the focus of the event. I think, also, that when you ride infrequently you don't really know how to dress for cycling or how to plan ahead. So the ride is often a little uncomfortable or awkward the first time. Or requires a little more preparation than just popping out to the car. For us, this is second nature. We have said goodbye to delicately fashionable haircuts and wide-legged trousers. But we have also said hello to three-quartered trousers, comfortable shorts and a wide range of funky Tshirts. I think of my helmet as a mark of coolness these days: "Look, here is my helmet on my arm. That means I rode here. That means I'm wicked cool." I know that that is the best ten year old thinking, but, frankly, ten year olds have it right: riding a bike does make you feel wicked cool.

5. They feel a bit sorry for me when I 'have' to ride (or catch PT) home. This is one of the stranger responses. For me, riding home is a pleasure. Catching PT isn't horrible. Getting stranded at the bus stop is, but the actual bus ride isn't. And I really, really like the combination of bike and train or light rail. You don't have to muck about with bike racks or parking or any of that rubbish. You just get on. And that, my friends, is where bikes piss all over cars.

So, I'm generally quite surprised by Sydney people's responses to bike riding. I think they think it's difficult and challenging and frightening. Like climbing mountains (this of course makes The Squeeze my Tenzing Norgay). I'd like to imagine that I'm a little like a mountain climber, but mostly I know that I'm more like a badass feministah who likes riding down hill more than uphill, and is more than happy to stop for a look or a cup of tea or chat mid-ride. Cycling in Sydney is not dangerous. Motorists in Sydney are. But there are far more safe, lovely rides away from the main streams than you might expect. Cycling in Sydney is fun, and it is safe and it is, really, a lovely thing to do with friends.

In the spirit of my (recent and ongoing) attempts to get more of my Sydney friends onto bikes, here are some interesting links I've found:

Budget Bike: riding a cheap (<$100) bike (Australian male author)
Dulwich Hill Bike Club: a local club with a 'Saturday Slowies' group:

I've noticed that most cyclists in Sydney (that I've seen) are male. Most of the hardcore cyclists I've know have been male as well. Hardcore cycling can (I suspect) be faily blokey with lots of dick-in-hand posturing. I really don't have any time for that. A cycling nut once dismissed my yellow safety jacket as a clear indication that I was 'a commuter'. The implication being that this was the worst possible insult for a hardcore cyclist. In my world, 'a commuter' is badass, and something I'd like to grow up to be. I think, though, that I'm far more likely to remin 'a mosier', someone who mosies along on their bike thinking a lot and staring in people's gardens and windows even more. Speed is not my goal; stamina is.
So I guess a woman-friendly, un-competitive casual cycling group would be useful. I know many of my female friends (who aren't dancers) aren't comfortable with physical activity and physical risk. Dancers are better - they're used to looking like idiots and taking the odd spill. I think, for many women, it's this risk-taking and knowing that you're actually capable of doing things on your own (even if it is just riding your bike to the shops) that's very important. For me, cycling is about being independent, about being physically capable, about being strong. I'm not as strong or fit as The Squeeze, for example, but that doesn't matter when I'm riding off on my own to Marrickville for fabric or to meet a friend for afternoon tea.

Last weekend we rode to the Marrickville community markets. It pissed down rain (luckily before and after we rode), but we saw some really great stuff (and we think we might actually be Marrickville People or Dulwich Hill People rather than Summer Hill People) and the markets are great. Plus it's a pretty safe ride without too many nasty hills. Though my sense of 'hill' is changing as we ride more - I can't believe how pathetic I was about hills in Melbourne. There were no hills in Brunswick.

I'm going to make more people ride with us on the weekend. It will rock.

Posted by dogpossum on February 16, 2009 4:27 PM in the category bikes


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