So I’ve recently been riding in to work…
I’m not one of those people who grew up bicycling around everywhere – I had one of those cheap department store bikes when I was little, and I only ever rode it in the park.
My first experience of riding to actually get around was when I spent a few months in Amsterdam in 2013 – but everyone did that there, and it was flat, with bike paths everywhere. I never thought I’d ever do that in Sydney though – until last year, when I moved in with a girl who biked absolutely everywhere and always raved about it.
For the first time I began to wonder if maybe I should give it a go, and so I got a bike (a decent one this time – a Mongoose), and began riding just to the Broadway shops from my apartment in Redfern…. until a few weeks ago, when I decided that I was going to ride to work.
For the past two weeks I’ve caught almost no public transport, and have been riding to work – and everywhere else, and it has been amazing.
Here’s some of the awesome benefits of bicycling that I’ve discovered:
- Saving Moniez: I only caught public transport once this week, and that’s because I was going out in Newtown and didn’t want to negotiate my way home after I’d been drinking. I usually pay $3.38 for a single trip from Redfern to Wynyard. If I want to go to most places in the Inner West that aren’t near a train station, I’ll pay an additional $3.50 for a bus. That makes a $14 round trip. If I bicycle, it’s free. I don’t pay for public transport, or uber, or parking fees, or tolls.
- Saving Time: I live in Redfern, and if I want to go to the Broadway shops, it takes me about half an hour to walk there – or, I can catch a train to central, walk to Railway Square, then catch a bus up. Which takes almost as long. Or I catch an uber, which is usually fast, but man sometimes I get stuck in traffic and think it might have been easier for me to walk. When I bicycle, I never get stuck in traffic, I never have to spend ages looking for parking, and best of all, I never have to wait for infrequent trains or buses and then have to wait again when I switch over to other trains or buses because there’s no direct public transport to where I want to go.
- Fun: There’s nothing like going down a nice, smooth hill with the wind in your hair, grinning widely at other bicyclists, and getting to enjoy all the scenery around you. When you bicycle somewhere it’s not just about the destination, you actually get to enjoy the journey too. And it’s a really nice way to interact with your surroundings – there’s this lovely sense of camaraderie with every other bicyclist you pass, you see some wicked graffiti, you discover new cafes and shops and you can stop any time you see something that catches your eye (I stop a lot to play with puppies).
- It’s exercise: It doesn’t have to be strenuous exercise either, I often bicycle at a very moderate pace, which is super great for helping me wake up in the mornings but doesn’t leave me feeling tired or sore. Not to mention those sweet sweet endorphins.
- It’s great for grocery shopping/going to the beach/carrying things anywhere: If you don’t have a car, a bicycle basket and pannier racks are a wonderfully convenient way to carry things. You can fit so much more than you can carry in your hands, and it’s so much less effort to take things anywhere.
But there’s a lot of misconceptions around bicycling
As you can probably tell, I’m a huge fan of bicycling as a mode of transport, and I’ve been trying to convince my friends to bike with me. But I keep getting hit with the same bunch of excuses:”I’d love to, but it’s too dangerous”, “I’d love to but I’m not fit enough”, “I’d love to but it’s too expensive to get a bike”, or “I’d love to but I don’t want to get sweaty and look disgusting every time I go anywhere”.
I’m not being disparaging. I totally understand those concerns and I had them too. But, as I’ve discovered, bicycling is not actually as hard/expensive/dangerous/sweaty as you might think. Let me address your woes, dear reluctant bicyclists:
Concern #1 – It’s not safe: This was my primary concern, because riding along with cars seemed a lot like playing Russian Roulette. The thing I’ve realised though is that those fears stemmed from the fact that I always see those really intense bicyclists riding on high speed roads – but most of the bicyclists I know don’t do that.
I’m a very casual rider and I’m not super confident, but I stick to bike paths and quiet streets and I’ve never felt like I’m in danger. There’s a huge network of bike paths around Sydney – and a huge number of bicyclists too; if you’re riding to/from work and keeping regular hours, you’ll probably have a bunch of other riders for company, which makes it feel even safer.
Any time you don’t feel safe, you can just switch to the sidewalk. I know, I know, it’s illegal, and if you’re worried about that, just get off your bike and walk it along beside you for that stretch of road. But most pedestrians are pretty chilled about sharing the path with a bicyclist, and as long as you’re not riding too fast and you ring your bell to warn people that you’re behind them, you’ll be fine. You do occasionally get a crochety old man/lady who’ll start yelling at you to get off the footpath, but they can’t move very fast so it’s not like they can do anything to you apart from yell.
Concern #2 – I’m not fit enough: You really don’t need to be very fit to ride a bike. It’s so much easier than walking, and you can ride at a very slow pace and still get somewhere faster than if you ran. The downhills and flats are super easy, and while the uphills are hard, you get up them pretty quickly and again, if it’s too difficult, you just get off and walk until you reach flatter ground. I’ve been riding up Pitt St and George St in the city and even though I’ve been riding slowly, nobody honks or puts any pressure on you to go faster.
Concern #3 – It’s too expensive: I know some people get super expensive bikes that cost over a grand, but there a lot of cheaper bikes that will do you just fine. Never buy a bike from a department store if you’re going to do more than ride around a park, because they are terrible and will fall apart and not work properly and that’s just super unsafe. However, pretty much any bike you get from an actual bike store is good enough, and you can get good bikes from around $250 – for my next bike I want this one from Reid, which is $249.99.
Concern #4 – I’ll get sweaty and manky: I used to worry about this too, but unless you’re trying to keep up with the cars on the road – or you’re wearing skinny jeans – you won’t get too sweaty. I found in summer that I would get as sweaty riding my bike as I would walking. In Winter though, I just don’t wear a jumper when I ride (or I wear one at the start then take it off about a minute and half in) and I’m incredibly comfortable the whole ride along. If you do carry a heavy backpack, you may get a bit of light back sweat (but again, only as bad as if you’re walking). The key thing is to dress lightly, so you don’t overheat once you start pedalling.
My usual cycling outfit is a thin blouse and skirt. Wearing a skirt is great because I don’t get sweaty thighs. I get to work, shake my hair out to get rid of the helmet head, and I look just as fresh as if I’d caught a train in. I don’t need to change or have to fix myself up in the bathroom, I literally put my bike on the rack and head straight to breakfast. It’s great.
Having said that, when I go to the beach, and the whole route is just full of gigantic hills (and it’s about a 50 minute bike ride), I do get a bit moist. There’s really no way to avoid that, because, you know, people sweat when they have to ride up consecutive hills. Wear lots of deodorant, and carry a little towel so you can dry off and refresh. And wear a tank top so that your armpits can air out.
I hope I’ve convinced you, but if you need more convincing, here are some great tips:
- Google Maps is your friend: They have bicycling directions, which stick to bike paths and quiet streets. I got a Universal Phone Mount from Kogan – $15 and free shipping – and I always put the navigation on so that I don’t even have to look at it and my phone just yells out directions to me.
- The City of Sydney has heaps of bicycling initiatives: Their Sydney Cycleways website has maps, free courses on how to bicycle, take care of your bike, and bike around the city, they do free tune-ups, and they host group cycling trips so that, if you need, you can get comfortable bicycling with them before you go off on your own.
- Accessorise at Kmart: $12 wire baskets, $7 pumps, $8 lights and more…
- If you need help, check out The Nunnery Bike Workshop: They recycle parts, and will teach you how to maintain and/or fix your bike (and will walk you through doing it) for free.
- If you’re nervous, find a friend who takes the same route: This is only helpful if you know someone who bikes the same path as you, or if you can find someone who does and I know not everyone has that luxury. But you should ask around and suss it out before discounting it as an option altogether. You could also go along to The Nunnery Bike Workshop or to a Sydney Cycleways event and meet people there who bike at least part of the similar route to you.
I’ll be super chuffed if this post convinces even one person to start riding more – it’s such a beautiful and amazing experience. I know I stress a lot less now, and I pay attention to my surroundings a lot more. Good luck to anyone who does give it a go, I hope you enjoy it as much as I do!