My name is Josh, and you may have seen me pedalling through town over the last ten years on my ‘Bent’ bike (RecumBent that is).
During this time I have been a regular weekday cycle commuter between my home in Bruns and my work at Shearwater school at the back of Mullumbimby.
This week, with some cycling friends, I am celebrating a ‘milestone’ because all of my small rides in the Shire have added up to the distance around the world! Getting to that distance has not seemed all that hard to me, because as Paul Kelly so eloquently puts it: ‘from little things, big things grow’. Small regular rides do add up over time. The scary thing is how many times we drive our cars also adds up to many times ‘around’ the world without anyone realising it.
When I was in high school I biked to school, locking my bike in the ‘cage’ with all of the hundreds of other kids’ bikes each morning. Of course once I got my P plates my poor bike was left in the garage to rust. Fast forward 25 years and my doctor is telling me that if I didn’t lose weight fast my knees would start to give out. I bought a bike, and my partner and I culled the family car fleet from two down to one, and we never looked back.
At first I was a bit scared of traffic and worried about how long riding would take. Interestingly I have since found that a trip that appears difficult, dangerous and long when viewed from inside a car is often quite the opposite on a bike. There is a profound perspective change, and some Einsteinian time dilation going on, I’m sure. The rational part of me has pondered the odds of injury and premature death from riding, and worked out that while I may have a slightly higher risk of a crash, there is a much larger counterbalancing reduction of my risk of heart disease and cancer, so overall the odds are well in the cyclist’s favour. To help keep the balance in my favour I choose to never drink and ride, I wear a helmet, I have bright front and rear lights for night riding, and also I never wear earphones so I can always hear the traffic.
For ten years people have said to me, ‘What about all the dangerous drivers on the road?’ My experience is that nearly all the drivers I have shared the road with have been careful and courteous, and I appreciate that sometimes people do have to wait a little when there is no room to pass.
Only once in ten years did one car cut me off, and even that was at low speed.
Three cheers for the bus companies and their excellent bus drivers!
What a truly great service they provide! These unsung heroes are professional drivers, and always give me the right amount of space on the road when they pass. For me each busload of school students represents 50 fewer cars on the road that day.
The best bit of road on my ride is Mullumbimby Road (pictured), from the top of the hill and going into town. This bit of road was upgraded by the council in the last five years when some tubing was laid between Uncle Tom’s and Mullumbimby. It has a generous cycling lane with a clearly marked white line on the edge, and minimal pothole action. I heard a rumour that a previous councillor, Peter Westheimer, was responsible for the inclusion of this excellent bit of bikeway. Hopefully our current and future leaders will also seek glory and a measure of immortality through this means! It is my personal dream that all of the main connecting roads between towns and schools in the Shire could be upgraded to this standard, and I hope that the political will can be found to do this.
Regular cycling in the Shire is very doable. Getting rained on, for instance: I reckon that I only get seriously wet about four times a year. Often we have a pattern where rain will blow in quickly, but by waiting for 10 minutes or so a fine patch often appears and then I can get home without getting wet.
As well as this, some pre-planning is required so as to have changes of clothes and shoes available at work for when you arrive. A shower, or even a small fan on the desk works to quickly cut down on sweat. Heavy things like laptops are a pain to carry on a bike, so I carry the data only on a large SSD drive – it is light and has no moving parts or screens to break. This also keeps me in the discipline of having computer files backed up as a bonus.
The disk drive travels in a waterproof lunch box for those rare soaking moments.
Yes, to do a regular cycle requires buying some extra stuff: pump, puncture kit, tyre levers, rain coat, chain lube, waterproof bag and new tyres now and then.
This can add up to a few hundred dollars a year, which seems a lot but is actually an absolute bargain compared to the cost of owning a second car.
Not only that, but instead of putting $ into petrochemicals you can give them to the very cycle-friendly Jay or Dave at True Wheel Cycles instead and feel a warm inner glow about that! (If you count each week’s rides as a substitute for a gym membership fee then it looks even better!)
After I started commuting, I grew confident enough to ride socially. I don’t go fast enough to keep up with the serious lycra heads (MAMILS) but there are plenty of other riders who love a slower pace and enjoy sharing the many wonderful back roads and countryside that we are blessed with.
Trust me, it is fabulous out there, and you will see and experience the journey at least ten times better in the open air on a bike, than you possibly could from the confines of a motor vehicle.
All good roads eventually come to an end, and so I am off to Melbourne with my bike for a sabbatical year. I hear they have some seriously long bike paths and some very well patronised rail trails there. I’ll start my next ‘circumnavigation’ while I check them out to see if they stack up to the Shire.