Cycling up to a traffic light, I had to stop. The space between a van on my left and car on my right was too narrow to squeeze through.
That was until the Lexus in front of me folded in its left side mirror. It was as if it was beckoning me forward.
Surprised, I wheeled throught the gap and once I was through, the Lexus’s mirror poped back out.
Women are considered an ‘indicator species’ of the health of the riding environment—the more women who commute by bike, the better the bike facilities.
What a fabulous quote from Bicycle Victoria’s report on the annual Super Tuesday bike count.
I feel safe enough to ride on central Melbourne’s streets, although that may be an indication of my foolhardiness rather than road conditions. I like riding on the clunky Melbourne Bikes, as cars and other cyclists seem to give me a wide berth. I’m obviously a novice, wearing a dress, the deeply unfashionable $5 Melbourne helmet and riding a Melbourne Bike.
While riding a Melbourne Bike today, I overtook someone! I couldn’t believe it. She looked able bodied enough and her bike seemed to be working.
Three intersections later, though, she overtook me again.
I had a great time on Ride to Work day. It was really easy to get a blue Melbourne bike — in fact, it turned out to be free on Ride to Work day. As I was riding, people along Bourke Street called out to me.
‘Hello cyclist! Do you want free breakfast?’ They pointed to a neat pile of brown paper bags in front of their cafe.
‘Hello! No thank you. I’m going to my company’s free breakfast,’ I said as I slowly wheeled by (it’s uphill coming up to Parliament House).
Free breakfast is one of the rewards of Ride to Work Day.
Now I’ve signed up for a one year subscription. It’s $50 and I get to ride the bikes for free for the first 45 minutes of each trip, which is longer than the standard 30 minutes. I have a blue stick that I put in the bike stand, then I can get whatever bike I want.
I rode to work today. The trickiest bit is Swanston Street. I had thought that Swanston Street would be the easiest — it has lots of cyclists and is closed to private cars during the day. However, this morning I found myself trying to squeeze between a parked truck, a street sweeper and a tram. The other cyclists seemed to be able to do it but I was too scared. Luckily, whenever I feel unsure about something, I can just hop off and wheel my bike on the wide pavements of Melbourne.
Here I am with the official Melbourne bike helmet. There were a whole row of bikes with helments attached so I took one of them.
As you can see, I don’t need to wear any special riding gear, just my work clothes. My commute takes 15-20 minutes for around three kilometres. I am a very slow cyclist. Every bike overtakes me. But that’s okay. I am obviously a baby bikist, with my clunky public blue bike, upright sitting position and impractical clothing. I don’t feel embarrassed about slowing the cycle lane down.
And look what I spotted! This is the second time that I’ve seen this mysterious yellow bike. I wonder why it’s yellow?
We’ve spent the last six months renovating and moving into our new home in inner Melbourne. I’ve been looking forward to returning to city life and riding a bike to work.
In fact, I’ve been planning to join the Melbourne Bike Share scheme. In London, I looked enviously at the thousands of people riding the Boris bikes. It had just opened up for casual use as I left London for Melbourne so I never got the chance to try it out.
I felt sad that Melbourne bike share has not been as successful so far. Most people think the reason for the low rental rates is because helmets are compulsory. I don’t think this could be the root cause. Most of the London users are regular commuters who can get helmets, rather than casual impulse riders.
More basic reasons are probably how safe our streets feel for cyclists and perhaps the limited coverage of the scheme (mainly Melbourne CBD), which is already well served by trams. Damjan, whose work is slightly outside the very centre of Melbourne, would have to ride my folding bike because there are no blue bike stands near his office.
I hope that the Melbourne bikes will slowly take off. Today I actually saw four Melbourne cycles in my 20 minute morning commute to work. This is a bit of a record for me. Admittedly, two of them were being ridden illegally — one without a helmet, the other on the footpath.
If I had a hand in introducing the bikes to Melbourne, I would have done two extra things to speed up the uptake of the bikes. I would have launched the scheme in late spring or summer — why on earth did they start of in the cold and wet of winter? The UK was a bit smart in introducing their indoor smoking ban in summer to minimise the shock of going outside to smoke.
I would have also given away access or paid lots of people to ride around and generate some interest and buzz. My guess is that if people see other people riding around and if using those bikes seemed normal, then more people would try it out. Instead, it became normal to see full racks of unused bikes, just like it has become normal (common wisdom) that ‘Myki sucks‘ (it’s actually a very useable system, which had well publicised teething problems).
I have registered for Ride to Work day. Next Wednesday I make my first epic 13 minute journey from home to work on a Melbourne bike. I have already scoped out the route. There is only one lane change that I’m worried about but I hope that a mass of cyclists on Wednesday will protect me.
Today, I took my bike out for the first time in two months. Despite the interval, I could still more or less expertly unfold it and launch onto the road.
However, I was terribly wobbly. I almost immediately veered into the queue cars and vans parked along the street. How could my riding have become so rusty in two months?
I hopped off the bike and lifted it to the curb. Ten seconds inspection revealed the problem. The front tyre was flat.
I wheeled my bike to the second-hand bike store where I had bought my lock and lights. A man with a Canadian accent and two centimetres of cigarette butt in his hand helped me attach the bike pump to the wheel nozzle thing.
‘Have you got a puncture?’ he said. ‘It’s really flat.’
‘I haven’t ridden it in a while,’ I said hopefully. I hoped it wasn’t a flat. I don’t know how to fix those yet (Damjan did buy me a book, I’m sure I can look it up).
‘How can you tell?’ I asked. ‘If there’s a puncture, I mean.’ For some reason, I had a mental image of putting the tyre in a bath tub of water. It just flashed into my mind and I didn’t have time to figure out what it meant.
He said, ‘If it’s flat again tomorrow, then you’ve got a puncture.’
I took this to mean that it’d be fine for me to ride today, and so I continued on my planned 20 km ride along Regent’s Canal and Victoria Park.
It was cloudy but dry, a good day for cycling except it became chilly by late afternoon. Also, my helmet was probably on too tight so my head hurt.
The expedition ended two hours later, with front tyre still firm. I felt proud. This was the first independent longish bike ride I’ve done on my new bike.
Tomorrow, I will squeeze the front tyre to see if it’s lost much air. In the mean time, I’ve been pondering the strange mental bath tub image. I now know what it means.
As kids, Jason and I had a number of blow up vinyl toys (didn’t everyone?). For example, we had blow up baseball bats, which we used to swat each other.
Once a few rounds of swatting had occurred, these inflatables would eventually start losing air. I remember dad taking various inflatable toys to the bathroom, putting them in a full bath tub of water, and squeezing them. We then followed the stream of bubbles back to the indistinguishable location of the leak.
The inflatable was then dried and patched with sticky tape. And thus, it lived to fight another day.
There was one aspect of the strike that did cause a twinge of envy. The London Cycling Campaign ran ‘BikeTubes’ over the two strike days. Experienced and novice cyclists joined together to travel en masse along designated routes, thus forming the cycling equivalent of a tube line.
I live too close to work for any of the BikeTube routes to be useful, which is a shame because I really enjoyed the one crowd cycling event I’ve been on.
The BikeTubes were so successful that they are now a permanent fixture on Transport for London‘s calendar. Cycle Fridays allow new cyclists to experiment with riding into work in the safe company of trained marshals from the London Cycling Campaign.
Last Friday as I waited to cross the road to get to work, I saw a BikeTube of people go past me. It looked fun.
Today I joined the 22 mile (35 km) ride around Camden, a large borough of London.
I am the queen! I rule! I went up all the hills, even as people around me were dismounting and wheeling their bikes.
I had so much fun. At 10am, I arrived at Camden town hall, one cyclist amongst 80. There were road bikes, a chopper bike (a pedal-powered low riding Harley-style bike), a Swedish army bike (red and built like a tank), a beautiful Dutch-style Bobbin cycle, two Bromptons, and four other Dahons. Over the course of the ride, I sped up or dropped back to chat with my fellow Dahon owners about the model of their bike, if they liked their wheel size, if they took their bikes on the train, how heavy the bikes were…
A lot of people rode up to admire my bike. ‘Yes, she’s shiny because she’s new,’ I say. ‘She has hub gears and I can change gear without pedalling.’
When you’re in a mass of 80 cyclists, you own the road. We had around ten stewards, fast and nimble cycle instructors in bright yellow who shepherded the group like sheep. They stopped traffic for us. We ran red lights. People on the street cheered. Some got angry. I didn’t care.
‘What are you campaigning for?’ bystanders shouted.
‘Cycling!’ we said. ‘Hooray for bikes!’
The ride took five hours, with one rest at Regent’s Park and another at the the British Museum. We had lunch at Golder’s Hill and ended at Hampstead Town Hall. We went through all my favourite places: Covent Garden, Holborn, Charlotte Street, Hampstead Heath, Kilburn High Street, Camden Town…
I almost gave up at the 20 mile mark. I was thirsty, my rear end was (still is) very sore, and we were coming up to my home. I resisted temptation and pushed through the final steep hill to coast into Hampstead village.
I am the queen, queen of the road! I fear nothing, no red buses, no roundabout can defeat me now!