Of course cycling looks sketchy to those who are driving or bussing it! After all, drivers (and bus passengers) are trapped on the mains! Main roads are the most challenging places to ride…. so they are either witnessing the uber confident, most experienced, or the lost, stranded & bewildered! Experienced city cyclists have a virtual street directory in their heads. They are masters of route planning and know all the streets, back-roads, pathways (and shortcuts!) outside the main roads.
In cities like Sydney, route planning is a fundamental skill for city cyclists because there are few dedicated cycleways. While the main roads are often more direct, they’re also more stressful, involving higher traffic speeds, continuous lane changes, and numerous sets of traffic lights to stop your momentum. Back roads have less traffic flow but can involve some route deviations as well as more undulating topography. Good routes provide the ‘best fit’ between directness, enjoyment, and one’s individual riding style. Routes choices can also vary with changes in traffic conditions. For example, I’ll sometimes ride along King Street, Newtown during the day when it’s more congested but I’ll avoid it when clearways start and the traffic speeds up. However, most of the time I prefer Wilson Street because it runs parallel, has no sets of traffic lights to slow me down, and is more direct if I’m heading to the city.
In planning your route, the best way to start is to contact your local council for a bike map. Council’s such as the City of Sydney will post you a map within a number of days. There are also cyclists’ street directories such Where to Ride Sydney and Bike-It Sydney which cover most of inner Sydney. Bicycleinfo.nsw.gov.au has a catalogue of bicycle maps that can be downloaded. There are also online mapping tools such as Ride the City, Bikely, and MapMyRide which are full of useful suggestions. Alternatively, you can learn a lot from riding with other experienced cyclists including local bicycle user groups. However, sometimes it’s fun just to find your own way. You’ll probably get lost a few times, but then you’ll also discover some new ways to get around whilst you delight in exploring unknown places. Finally, if there is one part of your route that you continuously find stressful, it’s worth looking at some alternatives. Discovering a more agreeable route will make a big difference to how good you feel when you arrive at your destination.
I recently travelled to Mudgee for a weekend of cycling. Apart from the stunning views and clean air, one the most enjoyable aspects of the weekend was the relative quietness of being in the countryside. Without the constant drone of traffic noise, all I could hear was the rustling of leaves, bird sounds, and the gentle hum of spinning wheels. This quietness was occasionally interrupted by a few cars on the road. When cars approached, I could often hear them long before I could see them. Hearing the engine noise, I could even guess what type of car it was and the speed it was travelling. Amidst this almost silent backdrop, it was easy to decipher any noise that would require my attention; however some people choose to diminish this sensory awareness almost every time they go for ride.
Listening is an essential skill for safe and effective cycling. Our ears are constantly working to unscramble noises that surround us and alert us to things may pose a potential risk or hazard. We often hear things before we see them, for instance the noise of car accelerating behind us, an emergency siren, a bicycle bell, a dog barking, or even children playing. Our ears can also pick up unusual bike noises such as mis-shifting gears, squeaking brakes, or an object caught in the rear wheel. Having our ears open allows us to be more social in our interactions. A casual greeting or conversation is near impossible when we’re zoned out to music. Like seeing, listening provides us with a way of scanning the road environment and directing our looking. Listening complements looking to enhance our overall sensory awareness. Of course, there are riders who are deaf or have reduced hearing. Does this mean it’s unsafe for them to ride? Typically such persons have developed superior looking skills and enhanced visual awareness of the traffic environment, be they walking, cycling or driving. Fundamentally, it is not deafness that defines the issue; its distraction. We need to be attentive whist riding, and reducing part of our sensory awareness doesn’t help us.
In Australia, there are no legal prohibitions against the use of headphones, however the RTA’s Bicycle Handbook strongly advises us not to use them when riding. In some jurisdictions, cycling with headphones is illegal. Alternatively, some product developers have created special headphones that allow us to hear external sounds whilst to listening to music. Whilst such products might be a compromise, it’s worth bearing in mind that it is often absence of electronic distraction and the opportunity to interact with our surroundings that makes cycling so enriching.
Aside from the society benefits switching to cycling brings (health, congestion & pollution), research is now showing it is in the interests of business to get the workforce rolling on bikes.
For many years, cycling to work has been a focus of cycling promotions. Considering that 16% of all weekday journeys are for commuting to and from work this makes a lot of sense. However, a further 9% of weekday journeys (in Sydney) involve traveling on work related business. That’s millions of journeys each day that could be done on a bicycle.
Workplaces in Sydney (and other cities around the world) are now establishing bicycle fleets for work related travel to meetings, site visits, running errands, and sometimes for key operational requirements. Bicycles have a number of advantages for work-related travel. These include:
- Faster and more reliable journey times (within distances of up to 10km)
- Cost savings in fleet procurement, maintenance, and parking
- Increased physical activity, productivity and employee wellbeing
- Alignment with organisational values including employee health and environmental sustainability
Establishing a workplace bicycle fleet can be a challenging. It’s important to have the right bikes for the type of travel that employees are going to be undertaking. Some workplaces have chosen electric bike fleets because distances and topography make regular bikes less desirable. Other businesses have choosen a folding bike fleet, such as ‘the office Brompton’, which can be seamlessly used with public transport and be parked in the office without the need of dedicated storage facilities. There’s a lot to think about in choosing a fleet bike and not all options are available from the closest bike shop.
When the introduction of workplace bike fleets begins to be discussed, employing organisations often have concerns about risk relating to areas from bike fleet maintenance to employee competency. Whilst these are areas need to be addressed, doing so can be relatively easy. BikeWise offer a suite of professional services to assist businesses looking to promote workplace cycle use. Our services range from in house information/ promotions presentations for employees; workplace cycle training courses ; independent consultation on infrastructure and fleet procurement, and fleet maintenance services.
At times like these we grudgingly agree with those “experts” who say that being seen while riding is “important.” This is why we created the Traffic Master jersey. Our goal was to make the brightest cycling jersey that we could conceive of, a retina-searing, listerine-for-the-eyes kind of garment that will keep us comfortable, warm and quite visible to our motorist friends …
The issue of whether Hi-Vis clothing should be worn by bike riders, or not, is contentious (see e.g. Copenhagenize). Without getting caught in arguments, we think it’s your road positioning that has a much greatest impact on your safety and visibility in traffic. Take for example this video demonstrating the visibility of some riders positioned in a truck driver’s blind spot. It doesn’t matter what you’re wearing, the driver is not going to see you if you’re positioned there. Similarly, if you ride past a side road or through a roundabout, your visibility is greatly affected by where you choose to position yourself in the travel lane. If you ride near the centre of the lane, you are far more visible there than on the far left of the road near the ‘door zone’.
This is because most drivers’ eyes are conditioned to look to the centre of the lane to see on-coming vehicles approaching. If you ride near the centre of the lane in such situations, you’re going to get seen. As an added benefit, you’re also going to see any cars approaching much sooner, because you have a better sightline of the intersection.
Visibility essentially comes down to two things: Seeing and Being Seen. Wearing Hi-Vis clothing will enhance your visibility, especially at night and when there is reduced light, but don’t be lulled into a false sense of security that wearing a fluro vest will instantly make you visible to all other road users. In the words of London Cyclist:
My argument here isn’t against high vis clothing. My argument is: Don’t just rely on high vis clothing. There is something that far surpasses the power of high vis. Road positioning.
Conversations about cycling seem to spring up like mushrooms when you’re a cycling instructor. People often tell me that they used to ride then stopped because of a close call or accident. In response, I give them a spiel about the ‘relative risks‘ of cycling or not-cycling, then I encourage them to do one of our courses where we teach ‘effective cycling’ as a way of making cycling safe and enjoyable. Last week, I met a man who, as a teenager, had three accidents all of which had involved being struck by cars. Two accidents had destroyed his bike and one had put him in hospital. Understandably, he wasn’t too keen to ride again. Without trying to interrogate his misfortunes, I asked him where he usually positions himself on the road. ‘On the right side of the road, so I can see the cars coming’, he told me. Shocked, I muttered some profanities to myself, then again encouraged him to come to one of our courses. In trade talk, we’d call him a ‘bike salmon’.
We all have quirks when we ride bikes and some are more quirky than others! Before I started training as a cycling instructor, I was completely unaware of some of things I was doing because I was riding on auto-pilot all of the time. So far, the most powerful thing I’ve learnt from cycling education is the importance of self-reflection. This is in essence what we aim to teach everyone in our courses because it’s one thing to perform a certain action, and it’s another to understand why, or why not? It’s often when things go wrong that I gain the most insight because I ask myself could I have stopped this from happening? I know that I’ll make mistakes out-there and there are plenty of other road users who will too. But how I choose to think about these situations has a huge impact on my cycling (e.g. do I recognised the mistake, let it go, feel embittered, or think about ways of doing things differently?). I’m not sure if I’ve become an ‘Enlightened Cyclist’ but my enjoyment of cycling has only grown in recent years with a bit of education and a lot more self-reflection. I’m optimistic that we can become better cyclists if we put our minds to it.
To celebrate the concept of two wheeled enlightenment (and it’s many challenges), BikeWise will be giving away a free copy of BikeSnobNYC’s new book The Enlightened Cyclist. To enter, all you have to do is tell us in 50 words or less, what is enlightened cycling? All entries must be posted on our Facebook page before 22 April.
On Wednesday, Adrian picked up an Australian Bicycling Achievement Award at Old Parliament House in Canberra.
The National Award stems from his pre-Bikewise, Sustainable Transport Officer, days at Macquarie University which was the recipient of the 2012 Educational Institution Award. The Award recognises the innovative works he oversaw across a broad range of cycling projects targeting sustainable transport to campus.
Coordinating delivery of new bike infrastructure included setting up the first bike parking/ locker/shower facilities on campus as well as quadrupling the University’s dedicated bicycle parking spaces.
Despite the challenges faced by location, Adrian’s work has contributed to a cycling modeshare that is 3 times the Sydney average!
Well done Adrian.