Thursday, 15 December 2011

on ya bike

its almost ironic that one of the great Australian slang statments pivots around a bicycle culture. Certainly in Australian history we were very much a nation who used bicycles to get around for work as well as pleasure. There are many stories of shearers getting from town to town on their bikes all over Australia.

Sadly Australia is now about one of the most negative nations on earth with respect to bicycles. This issue was recently raised by Tour rider Cadel Evans and (predictably) received significant and heated debate.

I have to ask, is Canberra the only cycling safe city in Australia?

Its a relatively rapid, interesting and sad twist to Australian bicycling.

Sadly it has become cemented into modern Australian culture that roads are for cars and bicycles are toys.

I started thinking about this again a few months ago when I saw this photo in the Finnish Press. It shows an excellent example of lateral thinking and application of pedal power to get around town, do some shopping AND take your kids with you.

Its almost tragic that a country such as Australia which regards itself as being an outdoor country is rapidly becoming an indoor and inside cars only country.

I lived in Finland for some years, and no matter what the weather, people would be outside walking, pushing kids in prams and riding bicycles. Unsurprisingly those people looked much healthier than the couch and car bound ones.

Recently one of the Bloggers I like to read did an interesting piece on the economics of bike lanes. While Cameron is a keen bicycle rider too (a real life one, not just morning lycra cafe set) his analysis seemed to show that having a healthier population did not actually give a net health cost benefit. Strangely because people seemed to be living longer lives. So this "James Dean" economic outcome (live hard, die young, leave a good looking corpse) demonstrates to me some of the shortfalls in using Economics to attempt to justify human activity.

Avoiding getting into issues like externalities and choice of metrics I'll steer back onto the course of bicycles and say that in Australia we are now facing greater and greater commuting times, more congested roads and many other negatives which I strongly feel are associated with our addiction to cars. Without doubt cars are great tools for a purpose ... but would you cut up your steak with a chainsaw?

I almost feel that we are missing out on some sort of innovation with our focus on cars too. As when last in Sweden I noticed this bicycle courier ...


I thought when I saw it "what a cunning and interesting design" ... don't see stuff like that in Australia. Heck even getting mudguards on a bike is hard now.

So while Holden has introduced an new electric car called the "Volt" that is expected to cost something like $50,000 one would have to ask why more people don't just spend $500 buy a decent bicycle and ride to work?

I know when I did (back in the 90's) I actually saved something like $6000 a year in vehicle costs (fuel, tyres, services) and got fitter to boot!

If enough of you get on yer bikes I reckon that it'll start to turn the social attitudes around and take bicycle riding in Australia from a "funny fad" back to real transport again.

Here's to that


Colin Griffiths said...

"a real life one, not just morning lycra cafe set"

-that made me smile. I think I've been both. Hardly a week day goes by that I don't cycle to work (lycra clad), ever - even in snow! Very occasionally, I'll go for a cafe ride at the weekend, but it used to be every weekend.

obakesan said...

Colin :-) yeah I wore lycra pants too when cycling to work. The trip was 17Km and it was simply more comfortable. Dried out faster in the summer rain-showers too.

RE: cycling in the snow, when I was in Finland cycling to the train station I noticed that a few cm of snow on the cycle path really added to your times! Snow is fine, but that black ice saw me dismount unexpectedly more than once!

LensBubbles said...

I have been riding my bike to work every weekday (except heavy rain), even in the winter with temperature sometimes reaching -20c, for the last 6 or 7 years. Toronto is by no means a bicycle friendly city, but is better than most. We are slowly adding dedicated bike lanes to some of the streets. We are fortunate to have many bike shops and a few co-op bike communities where you can go in and fix your bike for a small fee.

I save at least $1500 a year on parking/fuel, not to mention the benefits of exercise. Wish more people would bike. It's better for everyone.