--- Written by Andrew Keith.
It doesn’t really seem all that long ago, though it is a matter of several decades, that I was boy growing up in country Queensland. Of course there are many memories of growing up; of school; and Christmas and birthdays and so on, but some of my clearest recollections centre around riding my bike.
We lived out of town, which being only population 1,000 was not exactly metropolis status anyway, on a few acres so I had plenty of room to roam free. But I never felt so free as when I was out riding.
--- Written by Andrew Keith.
As this is the first episode in these adventures we should first introduce our hero, Comandaneur Fatboy. The title may confuse, but as he spent many a year in Indonesia he learned the art of concatenating words to make new works. “Comandonneur” is merely the joining of “commuter” with “randonneur” (a long distance cyclist) .. A racer he ain’t – they don’t call him Fatboy for nothing you know.
The first chapter of our adventures cover the event which Ride to Work day.
Fatboy had been out of the saddle for almost a month and having returned from a business trip had found all sorts of excuses not to ride to work each day. You know how it gets, too dark, too hot, too late, too early – whatever. So thank BQ (and that’s not something I say often) for Ride to Work Day to encourage back into the rat-running-race that is commuter cycling. There are few better feelings (well there ARE several – but none that I can mention here) than experiencing the dawn of a new day from the saddle of your trusty steed. How had I forgotten?
Being a community minded fellow, Fatboy reverted to his Boy Scout days to, figuratively speaking, help an old lady across the street. OK so this “old lady” was actually a cycling buddy, who we shall call “Paddy”, and the street was actually the 25km to the CBD from our neighbourhood, but apart from that it was true Boy Scout good deed stuff.
You see Paddy, as accomplished a rider as he is, rides pretty much exclusively in the local area during the week only venturing further afield on weekends. He had not commuted to the city before and wanted assistance with the best route. Sensing a chance to play “leader”, as well as get back on the bike, Fatboy offered to show the way.
Paddy was nervous about the ride, what with the traffic, and rain predicted (which didn’t eventuate thankfully) and recent reports of cyclists being run down by post office trucks and so on. You can always tell when Paddy is a bit nervous because he asks about the starting point and time about half a dozen times the night before.
As it turned out the ride was mostly uneventful. There was a car honked his horn at a rider trailing us for the dastardly sin of not indicating to go straight ahead when we preceding him, and the car following him, were turning left. The gall of the man! There was also the door that was opened into our trajectory but at least it was 2 cars in front and we had plenty of time to react. We arrived safely in good time to enjoy coffee, banana’s and buns and listen to BQ drone on and on about how great it was to have a couple of hundred commuting riders in the square. We know that there were many commuting cyclists who didn’t turn up to the event, but I must say I was expecting a bigger crowd, and by the temporary bike racks and catering BQ were as well.
As we were chatting paddy asked, “How did you find that route to the CBD?” This got me to recalling the perhaps a dozen different routes or variations I had tried over a 1 year period before I settled the one we had used as the safest and what the implications of that were for encouraging the next person to exchange their car for the treadly and ride to work.
The fact that a relatively experienced rider like Paddy would be nervous about a commute; the fact that it had taken me a year of trial and error to find the safest route; just emphasised to me how much of a hurdle there is to encouraging new commuters.
Data released this week from the last census showed that Brisbane has the lowest proportion of female commuting cyclists of any Australian capital city. Taking another cycling friend of mine, we shall call her “Molly”, there was much of this “safest” route that we had ridden that she would not consider safe enough. Molly is a newer cyclist and not as confident on her bike or in traffic. She commutes but almost exclusively along bike paths that happen to exist from her part of the city to the CBD. Even then she needs motorised transport to the start of the bike path because she doesn’t feel safe on the lead in roads.
So as I was sipping my post shower coffee and considering the work tasks for the day I was pondering what we would need to do to make the Paddys not nervous, the Mollys feel safe, and the hurdles much lower for a newbie to get up one morning and say, ”today I will ride to work”.
There is constantly much discussion in bicycle fora about this, all of which requires funding for something; be it better cycling infrastructure, more education, new laws or whatever. Having just contributed to the State Government’s “Strong Choices” interactive “People’s Budget Tool” online, which gives one a glimpse of the Treasurer’s balancing act with respect to the State’s finances and different priorities for calls on the public purse, I was mindful of how these things might be best achieved.
While this Fatboy doesn’t claim to have the answers (smarter, and thinner, people then me haven’t found them yet) it seems to me that it isn’t better infrastructure, or education, or laws, or less cars in the CBD. The problem needs to looked at in a far more holistic manner as to how to, most effectively efficiently and sustainably, get hundreds of thousands of people in Brisbane to work each day. The solution must be a combination of:
If there were then less cars on the road expanding active travel and public transport infrastructure (busways, bike ways etc) would be far easier and cheaper within the given right of way space that all journeys would be quicker, the environment would be cleaner from less emissions and productivity would soar.
Not a simple matter I know, not least because it needs to change the culture that travelling by car means “freedom” such that every other form of transport must subvert to this “human right” regardless of whether that is the most effiecient, effective and sustainable approach for the community as a whole. Fatboy and Paddy passed lots of “free” citizens sitting in their traffic jam as early as 6:30 as we cruised past.
On that note, and as I think I hear the motorists yelling “Communist” and reaching for their torches and pitch forks I might leave this rant there. Time to pedal home – and hope to miss the lynch mob.
I drove to work today. Just couldn't bring myself to get on the bike. Let me explain ...
Yesterday morning I had a supervised physio session in the gym at 7:45am followed by a doctors appointment at 10am. I decided to ride to my gym session wearing my gym clothes and joggers instead of the usual lycra and bike shoes. In the back of my mind I was thinking that motorists would give me more room if I wore normal clothes instead of lycra. I decided to leave all my technology at home (i.e., camera, lights, garmin). I must admit that the looseness of the gym shorts made the ride a pleasant experience with a nice cool breezy feeling down there. So, for the first time in a very long while, I'm not checking my speed on the garmin and I don't have my cameras running. I'm actually enjoying myself and I'm taking things slow and easy...
That is, until some MM decides to buzz me. This car came flying past me so close that I was buffeted by the breeze. I'm almost certain that I felt the wing mirror touch the hairs on my right arm (but that could've just been the rush of wind from the bow wave). I was utterly terrified and I started to panic and hug the gutter. There were other cars behind me and I found myself doing constant head checks with a strong sense of fear and panic rising in me. I swear I had goose bumps all over me and I felt like all the blood had drained from my face.
After that lot of cars had passed me, I rolled along slowly and kept a constant eye out behind me. When the next lot of cars approached, I pulled right over to the gutter, stopped and waited for them all to pass me. When I got moving again, I was still panicking. I got to the hill at Dutton Park and I heard a truck behind me at a point where there were parked cars on the side of the road. I turned to look and I may have yelped out an expletive as I came to a sudden stop behind the parked cars. I waited again for the cars to move off and I continued up the hill. The cars were all waiting at the top of the hill, so I slowly moved between them to get into the right hand lane as I needed to turn right onto Boggo Rd further ahead.
The lights went green and I moved off in the right hand lane. One woman came too close when passing me and I screamed (purely out of fear). She just stared at me incredulously in her rearview mirror. My god, I was a mess at this point. The rest of my ride was in bike lanes and I felt much safer. It was a real struggle to work up the courage for the return trip.