We tend to picture Australians surfing rather than cycling. But believe it or not, they’re not too bad on two wheels! Let’s have a look at cycling in Australia.
Cycling is gaining ground
It would be a lie to say that Australians are all about cycling and that Sydney is like a Down Under version of Amsterdam. Nowadays, only 17.4 per cent of Australians ride a bike for recreation or transport each week. Are Aussie cities too spread out? Are Australians drivers disrespectful of cyclists? The fact is that when you have a close look at Sydney, it’s still a lot more about cars, buses and trains than pushbikes. Still, cycling in Australia is slowly becoming more popular, attested by the fact that this year will be the inaugural « L’Étape Australia », an amateur road cycling event held under the banner of the French organization Le Tour de France!
Trendy sub culture and cycling in Australia
Like in Montreal, cycling in Australia is definitely characteristic of a hip sub culture. Riding your beach bike around Bondi Beach (Sydney) or your fixie in Fitzroy (Melbourne) is cool and trendy. Cafés are exhibiting bikes as if they were pieces of art and clothing brands work hard to make cycling clothes look nicer than they used to.
Rapha Cycle Club, located in Surry Hills (Sydney) went even further by opening a coffee shop inside their cycling store. Surry Hills, coffee and cycling… or the hipster triangle ! Have a ride down Crown Street on a weekend afternoon and you’ll be sure to find a group of bikers sipping lattes and talking about bike gear outside of Rapha Cycle Club.
Bike messengers return
Today, couriers aren’t as numerous as they used to. In the 1990s, there were very useful for delivering legal documents and getting cheques to the bank. Today, all this can be done online and the golden age for bike messengers has ended. However, the remaining bike messengers in Australian cities form a strong culture and these urban cowboys are now being solicited for food delivery! Modern services like Deliveroo and Foodora are sparking a revival of bike messengers.
Cycling events thrive all over Australia
Cycling events are getting more numerous across Australia. Some are for professionals but most are just for fun, like the Gears and Beers festival that takes place in Wagga Wagga, New South Wales. After the cycle challenge that ranges from 9 km to 130 km –colloquially referred as The Dirty 130– the participants can enjoy craft beers and cider, locally roasted coffee and local food. Isn’t cycling way more appealing all of a sudden ?
In Sydney, Rapha Cycle Club organizes The Tour des Plages every year. It is not a race, it’s an adventure across the coast of Sydney’s beaches that aims at « bringing out the camaraderie and suffering of road riding » as Rapha Cycle Club puts it.
In Melbourne, cycling aficionados participate in the Melburn Roobaix event (named in reference to the French race Paris Roubaix). It’s all about discovering new parts of Melbourne in an original way.
Cities support cycling in Australia
Australian major cities are supporting cycling and trying to make it part of popular culture by implementing shared bikes. In 2010, Brisbane and Melbourne were the first cities to develop a public bicycle system. At first, Melbournians and Brisbanians were put off from riding by the inconvenience of providing their own helmet. Indeed, in Australia, wearing a helmet is mandatory while cycling and this law makes shared bikes less appealing than they could be. However, the number of users is on the rise and both cities are investigating options to improve their bike sharing systems. In Melbourne, helmets are now available for just $5 at many retail outlets and vending machines. Sydney hasn’t implemented shared bikes yet but it will surely learn from other cities’ experience. Although, in Sydney, bikers have to carry a driver licence so one can be identified should they break the road rules. Let’s hope it doesn’t discourage future shared bikes users. With such a nice weather, it would a pity that shared bikes don’t thrive in Australia!
In the end, cycling in Australia is definitely on the rise thanks to fun events and sub cultures. In cities though, cycling remains a bit of a wasted opportunity while it could really help reducing both traffic and pollution.
We’ll complete this overview of cycling in Australia in an upcoming article about mountain biking. Stay tuned!