Hi, I'm Chris and I'm a reformed motor vehicle-holic.
My story isn't that dissimilar to many in my generation. I went to University, got a full time desk job, and physical activity went the way of history.
My first job was based in the Brisbane CBD, and so my means of transport was the bus. By the age of 20 I'd bought my first car, and not long after got a job in the western suburb of Toowong. While it was still on the bus route from my home in Kenmore, I had free parking available, so I drove. And so began my addiction to private motor transport. I would drive to and from work. Drive to the shops. Drive to my girlfriend's house. Drive to the bus to the football.
Not surprisingly, obesity took hold and by the age of 25 I was tipping 130kg. Not pretty. An ankle injury suffered playing Oztag, a type of non-contact rugby league, was something of a wakeup call to get my weight sorted out. The rehab was so incredibly slow and painful because of my weight, I thought it was ridiculous. Walking, weights, and a stationary bike, Oztag refereeing and more playing, and within a couple of years I'd shed over 40kg - and a failed marriage. To celebrate I climbed Kilimanjaro for my 30th birthday.
But still the motor vehicle was central to life. Now I worked at the Gold Coast and really had no choice but to drive each way.
In 2010 I changed jobs back to the Brisbane CBD for the first time since I was 20. I was living in Jindalee with my wife and 2 kids, and bus travel was painfully slow with the Centenary Highway, so I was driving to Oxley station and catching the train. We were a typical 2-car household.
Mid-2011 some financial pressures were creeping up. It was a case of deciding which bills to pay on time and which to let lapse a bit to deal with the cashflow. It wasn't because of much lower income, but something wasn't adding up. It was then that I started looking into e-bikes and whether or not the concept of riding to work was viable. However, the initial cost outlay of an e-bike seemed high for something that, if I didn't stick to it, would be a waste.
So initially I used the crappy mountain bike I'd got from Subway from $50 for one of their promotions to get to the train station, leaving the car at home. The bike itself was pretty painful to ride, many of the gears simply didn't work or slipped, the brakes sounded like an Airzound and the tyres ran flat quicker than my wallet emptied. But it proved the concept to me.
I plucked up the courage and went to a bike shop looking for a better non-powered bike to try and ride the full 15km to and from work. I ended up with a generic hybrid bike, rack and bag for about $550. Riding to work the first time was a bit intimidating, but I'm lucky in that from Jindalee to Brisbane city you have the Western Freeway and Bicentennial Bikeways to take up most of the slack. Only a few sections of road riding, and being legal to ride on the footpath, where I felt intimidated that's what I did.
I rode 3 days the first week, 4 days the next, and then 5 days there in. It was great! I was getting exercise without going out of my way, I was saving money on using the 2nd car or public transport. I was doing so well we decided to sell the 2nd car. No more rego, servicing, petrol, insurance for a bucket of bolts that was literally used to drive 5km a day to and from the train station.
Last year my work diversified into having clients on the Gold Coast as well. Initially it was a juggling act to take the car some days, dropping the kids off at school and kindy on the way, and relying on friends/family to pick them up on the way home. I tried public transport on days where my wife having the car was essential, and it was utterly painful. Bus to train, train to city, train from city to Helensvale and then another extremely unreliable bus from Helensvale to Southport. All up it was taking 3 hours+ each way, and on some days when buses were particularly unreliable, up to 4!
So with some help from knowledgeable folk at the Brisbane Cyclist forum I was able to determine a cycle route from Jindalee to Park Road station. I could take my bike on the train to Helensvale then ride to Southport. All up this took about 2 hours, more if I didn't time my arrival at train stations quite right. The cost saving was still compelling. The train cost about $10 each way, and that was it. Driving would use about 15 litres of petrol (~$22), $12 in tolls, $18 in parking, and that doesn't take into account the wear and tear on the car either. Sure it was faster, sometimes less than an hour, but the cost mounts up!
Late in 2013 I finally took the plunge and bought an e-bike, a Gazelle Orange Innergy X2. Retailing at $3300, they're not the cheapest option, but they are superb. Integrated lights, single key that both locks the battery in place and controls an AXA-defender-like wheel lock, full chain case and mudguards to prevent you getting grubby, and a step through frame to make riding in business clothes feasible. Being able to ride in a comfortable upright sitting position is heavenly!
I copped the predictable ribbing from people about riding a "girl's bike", but that's to be expected. Indeed many of my friends look at me with a look of curiosity if not downright mocking that I use my bike the way I do. Not only do I ride to work, I do grocery shopping - I hook up the kid trailer and panniers and head to the local supermarket. At Christmas this was a godsend. While people were spending 20 minutes circling the carpark desperately trying to find a spot, I could roll up to the very front door of the shops, chain up and walk in.
Many little errands I just hop on the bike and go. Even if I just want to get out of the house and go for a ride, sometimes the e-bike is the pleasant way to go. Less effort, and can go places where I just wouldn't go with the hybrid bike - up to top of hills to see the view etc.
I can't fathom needing a 2nd car ever again, and as it is the only time I drive ours is on weekends if we're all going somewhere as a family - but I have an evil plan to change even that scenario in the future. But while I have a 1-year-old baby, that evil plan will have to wait!
Riding for transport is fantastic. I'm far from the stereotypical "lycra loonie" online commenters bitch about. I rarely hit the road with a view to doing so as fast as I can or to max out my effort. I have no interest in cycling as a sport, either participating or viewing. My bike is my transport. Nothing more. As a result of that I possibly see where infrastructure falls down more than those very confident, strong, fit sports riders. They would, in general, be fairly comfortable mixing it with motor vehicles and keeping up a speed that makes that a smoother experience. For me, especially on the Gazelle which on the flat is best ridden at around 25kph before the assistance cuts out above 27kph, sharing the road can become stressful. On narrow roads that speed differential can lead to frustration from drivers, and associated dangerous behaviour. There's no point trying to ride any harder because above 27kph there's no motor assistance and so all you're doing is trying to make a 25kg bike go fast! Might as well be pushing a car!
Gaps in infrastructure where on road riding is necessary and there's no suitable off road or even dedicated on road facility does make life more stressful for the transport cyclist. It is my hope that as more people take up riding for transport, and the ratio of fit adult males to less fit adult males and fit or unfit females evens out that more thought will be put in to such infrastructure.