Why cycling will get you fit and green
BRUNSWICK resident Rosy Strong rides her bike to work in Richmond. “It means I don’t have to think too much about exercise or going to the gym out of hours,” she says. “My ride to work becomes my hour of daily activity.”
Around the offices of Bicycle Victoria, says Bart Sbeghen, they call this “the extra Tim Tam factor”.
“A lot of people ride for convenience and then they realise they’ve got the health benefit. An extra Tim Tam a day – it’s all justified,” he says.
Mr Sbeghen says there’s been a steady rise in commuter cycling numbers around Australia. “Riding to work just keeps going up and up, especially in the capital cities. Melbourne’s inner-north has almost one in five people riding to work. And the number of cyclists on Swanston Street lately is equivalent to more than 40 trams a day. It’s getting to be like a European city.”
If climate change is a diabolical policy problem, then cycling is one of the saintly solutions. Pedal pushing is an antidote for several modern ills, from greenhouse gas emissions, air and noise pollution, and traffic congestion, to obesity and social isolation.
“It’s a big cost saving too,” Mr Sbeghen says. “In some cases, people can give up the second car, or their monthly public transport ticket.”
But while inner-city residents can cruise on easy streets – especially in Melbourne’s north, which has a web of bike lanes – the roads are rougher for cyclists elsewhere.
Mr Sbeghen is working on design guidelines for new housing estates to make sure developers consider the needs of bike riders, such as direct links to shops, schools and public transport. With smarter planning, he says, cycling can fit in with local errands or make up one leg of a longer commute for people in middle- and outer-ring suburbs.
“Not all jobs are in the city, and shops and schools are always local,” he says. “Trips of between two and five kilometres are in the sweet spot where riding beats any other way of getting about.”
To find out about cycling in your area, contact your local Bicycle Users Group. On its website, Bicycle Victoria has a long list of BUGs and cycling clubs. “They’re popping up everywhere,” Mr Sbeghen says. “BUGs are independent and they talk to local politicians about what they want. It’s making for a much healthier city.”
If you’re hesitant about getting into the saddle, consider cycle safety training. Ms Strong’s business, Bikes@Work, runs regular courses for the Darebin, Booroondara and Whitehorse councils, as well as for individuals.
She says the idea of riding in traffic can be intimidating. “One rider said to me, ‘In a car, you’ve got metal wrapped around your skin, but on a bicycle, it’s skin wrapped around metal.’ People feel there’s a lack of protection.”
But that sense of vulnerability can become a strength, if you ride with it in mind. Ms Strong advises bike riders to use lots of lights and reflectors. “And you need to be looking around you all the time, observing and anticipating what could happen,” she says.
“Position yourself in a predictable, visible place on the road. Keep a metre out from the kerb or from parked cars – never assume drivers will watch for cyclists before they open their door.”