I’m not going to lie. I’ve used every excuse under the sun (including the sun) not to ride my bike to work. “It’s hot. I’ll get sweaty. My helmet will mess up my hair. It’s wet. I’m tired. I’ve got too much crap to carry. It’s dangerous. You can’t trust motorists, they’re crazy. I might crash. I’m too bloody scared.”
They’re all valid excuses but if I’m honest, most of them just don’t cut it. The fear, however, is justified. A friend’s bike is locked up at her office because so many of her mates have been hit by cars lately. Last week, British ultra-distance cyclist Mike Hall was hit by a car and killed during a race near Canberra. He was 35.
I’m no pro racer, but until recently the constant tales of blind spots and bloody injuries were reason enough to avoid my beautiful bicycle.
Eventually, a financially crippling number of parking tickets pushed me over the edge. After a minor meltdown and epic Facebook rant, my brother stated the obvious. “Fix your bike, get on your bike, ride your bike.”
“Screw you Adelaide City Council, screw you motorists, I’m going to cycle.”
My brother was thrilled. He’s all about saving the environment. Former Lord Mayor (and avid cyclist) Stephen Yarwood was chuffed, too.
“It’s worth noting we have more car parks than any CBD in the country (despite being fifth biggest),” he replied to my social media meltdown. “Plus a range of bike paths, bus lanes, tram and train options.”
He’s right. There’s always room for improvement but we’re lucky to live in a city with clean air and (some) dedicated bike lanes. Defiant, I pumped up my tyres, placed my posterior on the seat, feet on the pedals, and faced the CBD commute. You know what? It takes less time to ride from Mile End than it does to drive and it’s a hell of a lot less stressful. I didn’t get hurt, didn’t encounter road rage, stuck to the bike paths in our city’s green patches, and the wind in my hair took me back to childhood. I felt like a cast member of The Goonies.
There are 200,000 people in the city and 34,000 car parks. It was a thrill not to have to find one.
After a few weeks of successful cycling, I noticed a few things. Motorists are a daft bunch. I’m guilty of it, too. We pull out without checking properly, don’t pay enough attention to blind spots, open doors into bike lanes, and sometimes focus on everything but the road (what’s with women plucking their eyebrows at the lights?).
I found myself cursing drivers. ‘Hell,’ I thought. ‘I’ve become one of the pedal pushers I used to complain about.’
Cyclists should complain. Loudly. Their life depends on it.
Don’t get me wrong – I ride slow. I don’t wear lycra. I don’t curse motorists. I’ll never compete in races, own an expensive bike, or know the bicycle lingo. But in a few short weeks, my eyes have been opened to a community I was missing out on. The little ‘good on you’ smile from passing cyclists, the endorphins released by fresh air, and the wonderful groups around Adelaide devoted to pedal power and DIY culture.
There’s Adelaide Bike Kitchen, a space in Bowden devoted to teaching locals how to fix and care for their bikes. They host workshops every Wednesday night, followed by a shared dinner, and they’re just a really decent bunch of people (I’m noticing a common thread here).
In late March, the Bike Kitchen team announced they have to relocate. They need to find a new home by 30 June. Know somewhere? Their budget is a maximum of $1000 per month, it needs to be within three kilometres of the city, a minimum of 85 square metres in size, and they’d love a kitchen, toilets and if possible, 24-hour access. Help a bunch of bikers out.
Recreational cycling organisation BikeSA also runs workshops and info sessions. Wednesdays are also a hit if you dig leisurely morning rides with a touch of history. Mr Postcards and passionate South Australian Keith Conlon leads a free bike ride along the River Torrens (sometimes to the beach – it changes each week). ‘The Bike Club With No Rules’ meets at 9am at Bicycle Express on Halifax Street and Keith does it because he loves the city and sharing the love on two wheels.
The city looks different on a bike. I take a different route home each time (there’s joy in getting lost). Last night, light rain and the setting sun fell on West Terrace Cemetery gravestones as I pedaled past. It was beautiful. I felt alive. The silent tombs around me a reminder to squeeze the stuffing out of every day.
In the parklands near Sir Donald Bradman Drive I stumbled upon a statue of a wild cat with a bird in its mouth. I arrived home in a good mood.
It’s not all roses. It probably never will be. Idiots will always sit behind the wheel. Some on bikes, too (don’t ride drunk or listen to music while you cycle guys). People get tired. Accidents happen, so do punctures.
How does the story end? For now, I’m still in one piece. These days, I don’t stress out about my bike being stolen. With the money I’m saving on parking fees and fines, I could buy a new one twice over.
“Now we just need another few thousand Adelaideans to start thinking more about the environment and their arses,” a mate said via Facebook.
It’s true. I called bullshit on my excuses. I implore you to, too. Give pedal power a go. Your accountant and your rear end will thank you.
Ride with the mindset that motorists are blind and you might just get home in one piece.