Like many Sydney-siders, I grew up fearing the road. It’s too hilly. It’s too dangerous. No one else is doing it.
Cycling is not an option. At least, that’s what I had constantly been told growing up in Sydney.
Ten years ago, I moved to London. As big cities go, there is a strong cycling community that uses the bike as both daily commute to school and work, as well as leisure on the weekends. Living in London made a cyclist out of me.
On my recent returns to Sydney for family visits, I have noticed the city investing in some cycling infrastructure. There are cycle lanes scattered around the CBD as well as various parts of the outer suburbs. There is a great off road cycle path that lines Epping Road from Lane Cove all the way to Epping Station, and there is a brand new cycle path leading from Carlingford to Paramatta, where many of the people in the area go to work. The infrastructure is obviously there, but most Sydneysiders are still reluctant to give it a go.
For the past twelve years, Lawrence Naccarella, 42, has been cycling to and from work, as well as escorts his sons, also on bikes, to school. He says cycling has given him the mental space he needed from a hectic life, and as he is time poor, he uses the time cycling with his sons to school as “quality time with kids riding to school and exercise”.
Lawrence believes the lack of infrastructure and the mandatory helmet law are to blame for the lack of cyclists out there.
Lawrence is just one of the community of cyclists in Sydney. I did meet a cyclist near my parents’ house who informs me that they cycle to work every day too. The fact that you are reading this in a cycling magazine proves that there are more of you out there.
Yet, some of you still hesitate to use their bikes for commute. One cyclist I spoke to said they would drive to the start of the M7 cycle lane just so they can ride the path for training, the drive back instead of riding there even though they only live within 10km from the start. It’s that old mentality again: cycling is too dangerous in Sydney.
But is it really?
A couple of days ago, I joined BA editor, Nat Bromhead and senior journalist Peter Maniaty, on a ride to Bobbin Head, one of the popular cycling hot spots. Before the ride, the fear that was installed in me came back. Was I ready for the anti-cycling aggression I’ve always feared in Sydney? I rolled out slowly that morning, being extra careful of the roads I chose to ride and double checking turns I needed to make to reach the spot where we agreed to meet.
And you know what? While there are exceptions, majority of the driver I encountered have been great, keeping a safe distance when passing, not tailgating too closely when following, and over the course of the day, my mind softened, I saw the cycling community I’ve longed to see in Sydney and I felt a surge of excitement for the possibilities.
Yes, a lumpy topography of Sydney might have put people off from cycling before, but with the popularity of ebikes gives the possibility of overcoming the hills!
Of course, we are still very much a car culture, but we don’t have to be at war. Cyclists are drivers too, it isn’t all or nothing, however a choice of cycling for your shorter distance commutes will ease congestion, help the air quality and keep you healthy. It’s a win-win scenario that I hope one day, will be just a norm in Sydney.